Cian Walsh, a transition year student at St. Brogan’s College, Bandon has been announced as the winner of the Teagasc award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2021 (BTYSTE). Cian’s project looked at the social, economic and environmental benefits and drawbacks of growing hemp and to determine if it can promote sustainable farming in Ireland. Cian’s teacher is Ms Laura O’Regan.
A variety of Cannabis sativa, hemp is often confused with marijuana; and, although it contains the same active ingredient, the concentration is much lower in hemp. Hemp was one of the first plants in the world to be spun into useable fibre and has since been used for many other purposes. Cian explains: “100% of the hemp crop can be processed into many different eco-friendly products; some examples include hempcrete, hemp insulation and hemp bioplastic”.
Cian surveyed farmers to determine the current knowledge surrounding hemp. He found that there was a great interest in the crop, but that only 36% of those surveyed would consider growing the crop. Cian explains: “This was a figure I set out to change. I hosted a hemp information meeting on Zoom with the farmers’ surveyed, which included a presentation on hemp research in Ireland by Barry Caslin, Teagasc’s Energy & Rural Development Specialist. At the end of the conference, I resurveyed the farmers and found a significant increase in interest in growing the crop (from 36% to 64%) if there were hemp processing facilities near to their home farm.
Cian added: “The benefits of growing hemp are endless, farmers are willing to make the change. But it is government investment in the industry that will be needed in order to grow Ireland’s hempire”.
Barry Caslin, complemented Cian on his excellent achievement saying: “There has been a huge interest from farmers and industry representatives in developing a hemp industry in Ireland. Many farmers are seeking land use alternatives, especially in light of the lack of income from the drystock sector which was highlighted in the recent Teagasc National Farm Survey report. Hemp is an excellent break crop bringing other benefits to crop rotation, including higher yields in following wheat crops”.
Teagasc Director, Professor Gerry Boyle, congratulated Cian on his award and commended all the students who took part in this year’s virtual event. Professor Boyle said: “There has been a fairly rich history of hemp research in Teagasc even going back to the 1950s at An Foras Taluntais. This research was geared towards the agronomy of hemp; although there were different uses of hemp in mind. This research proved that industrial hemp can grow well in Irish soil and climatic conditions”.
The Teagasc special award is presented to the project that best demonstrates a thorough understanding of the science of agricultural or food production, or the use of science to improve technologies available to agricultural or food production.
The Teagasc Farm Business Options webinar scheduled for Tuesday January 19th at 11:00 will focus on the Opportunities for Industrial Hemp in Irish Agriculture. For further information see www.teagasc.ie/farmbusinessoptions