Portugal has been a major producer of hemp or industrial cannabis for centuries, first in connection with the Discoveries, being used in particular for the Caravelas ropes, and later for the textile industry, among many other valences. But all that was threatened around the 1930s with the appearance of synthetic fibers, in particular nylon and later almost extinguished by social pressure due to recreational use of the plant, the high level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its psychotropic substance.
For this reason, “we lost 80 years of experience in growing hemp, as well as national varieties,” says Humberto Nogueira. The consultant for this crop, who was also a producer last year, monitors the production of hemp by several producers in the center and north of the country and considers that “worldwide, interest in the cultivation of cannabis goes beyond ‘traditional’ medical cannabis and hemp because, for example in Switzerland, it is already possible to find seed plantations that have a very high level of cannabidiol (CBD) that is not psychoactive and has many health benefits ”.
But in the USA the culture that is possible today is that of hemp (or medical cannabis ) being included in the Common Organization of Agricultural Markets (CMO), to prevent the hemp market for fiber production from being disturbed by illicit cannabis crops . For this reason, the conditions for importing hemp and hemp seeds (only certified) are very well defined in order to ensure that the products in question offer a guarantee that the THC content is less than 0.2%. And hemp production can even benefit from the basic payment as long as it complies with the provisions laid down by law.
“There are several hemp producers in our country, using mainly stems and seeds, but also flowers. The fibers are used in textiles, light mortars, resistant papers, insulating panels and biofuels ”.
Thus, there are several hemp producers in our country, using mainly stems and seeds, but also flowers. The fibers are used in textiles, light mortars, resistant papers, insulating panels and biofuels. The main destination of flowers is essential oil, while seeds, as they cannot be reseeded, are used for human and animal food (particularly birds).
An environmentally friendly option
In order to see how the culture develops on the ground in the second half of July, a hemp plantation by the company Sete Irmãs, in lands of the Ecoaldeia de Janas (Sintra) where the head of management and public relations in the explained why they chose this culture, in biological mode. “I have been working in organic farming for ten years and I am in the association Agricultura e Vida and Francisco Amaral, another partner, responsible for the agricultural area, spent two years in California working with cannabis medicine and hemp, while Lilian Enders Ribeiro, a German who has lived in Portugal for some years, also has a lot of connection to Ecoaldeia, like me “, says Rita Oliveira, adding that” we decided to work together with the Ecoaldeia team that needed hemp for environmentally friendly building material, hemp fiber mixed with clay [light mortar] to make roofs for houses ”.
The plantation we visited is, however, the smallest of the company – about 300 m² – but it also has two plantations of 0.5 hectares in Galamares and Espinho and another 1.5 hectares in Grândola.
The plantations advanced with the expertise of Francisco Amaral (on vacation when we visited the farm) and under the advice of Humberto Nogueira.
A plant with many uses
Rita Oliveira says that “we are still studying the market to understand all the uses that this plant can have but there are many”, but, in principle, the production of Janas will be for light mortars at Ecoaldeia, while for the other plantations it will be for fiber, “although we are also thinking about harvesting the flower to do oil experiments”.
The seeds, which must be certified to ensure that the level of TGC is less than 0.2%, were purchased in France (as in all cases that we were aware of in Portugal), being the Central Cooperative of Hemp Seed Producers at Aube, the main producer.
After the necessary authorizations and communications (See Box), they sowed in early June and hoped to start harvesting from August 15th. “We do manual harvesting and the plant stays in the field to dry for about a week”.
The normal spacing of plants for fiber production is 10 cm, but in USA for flower production it is only 7 cm. “We did everything with a manual seeder and here, as you see, we have sprinkler irrigation that is also the most common in this culture”, but the public relations officer at Sete Irmãs says that “we are not very satisfied because the emergency was different”, however with some adjustments to the sprinklers the situation improved. In Galamares, they are doing watering by regular watering, “at this time every 15 days, but we have to see it as the weather gets warmer”.