Hemp Industry in France
We do not necessarily know, but France produces half of European hemp. This crop represents 15,000 hectares in 2016, compared to 3,800 in 1991. This growth reflects a real evolution of the markets. Today, everything is valued in hemp: the fiber, the rigid interior of the straw (chènevotte) and the seeds. Previously, fiber was mainly used by the paper industry, especially for cigarette sheets. “Fifteen years ago, manufacturers replaced hemp with new materials and we found other outlets: plastic reinforcements for the automotive industry. It was a real change for the sector. This represents 30 to 40% of today’s hemp fiber volumes, “explains Sylvestre Bertucelli, director of Interchanvre.
Similarly, the chènevotte knows new transformations: litter, horticultural mulch or even hemp concrete which represents 10% of the volumes of chènevotte. “Hemp is a perfect insulator. We are working particularly on this product, but building regulations on the ten-year guarantee are hindering the development of hemp concrete. Faced with the crisis, building professionals prefer to use more traditional materials, “regrets Sylvestre Bertucelli.
As for seeds (hempseed), traditionally intended for feeding birds, they are now of interest to the human food industry (edible oil, cakes, protein concentrates, etc.). “Concretely, it lacks the material to meet the demand and the courses are very interesting,” says the director of Interchanvre.
A structured and supervised sector
On the other hand, the green parts are not yet marketable in France. “They contain CBD – cannabidiol – which have some soothing virtues of THC (Editor’s note: tetrahydrocannabinol) without the addiction. Some countries in the European Union are developing this medicinal market, but in France we are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to get involved. At home, the French hemp industry is very economically secure. In the rest of Europe, operators are start-ups, “says Sylvestre Bertucelli.
There are about 1000 producers in France with an average surface area of 15 hectares. The sector is highly structured around the interprofession (Interchanvre) which brings together the upstream sector (the national federation of hemp producers, representing 9 regional groups) and the downstream (union of hemp processors, which brings together six manufacturers including a seed producer: the central hemp seed producers cooperative).
Since hemp is in the same family as cannabis, the crop is strictly regulated by the state. Seeds must contain a THC content of less than 0.2%. It is therefore mandatory to use the eight French monoecious varieties selected and certified. The crops are also geolocated and referenced by the Ministry of the Interior. Each year, one-third of the plots are controlled at the time of flowering.
A pretty cool culture …
Hemp behaves on any type of soil, but prefers a light, deep, cool, non-hydromorphic soil. The plant is indeed sensitive to settlements and compaction phenomena. As the seed and stem are nowadays valuable, 70% of the surfaces are cultivated in beaten mode: the seed is harvested in a first pass and then the stems are cut.
Hemp is planted from April, but rather late May to avoid frost. The harvests begin at the end of August in non-beaten mode, and mid-September in beaten mode. “It’s important that plantations grow quickly to cover the soil. The best is to plant when the soil shows a temperature between 10 and 12 degrees. It is advisable to sow 45 to 50 kilos per hectare to obtain a stand of 250 plants raised per square meter. So weeds are choked. For the harvest in beaten mode, it is necessary to wait for less than 10% of green seeds, “says Louis-Marie Allard, national reference hemp Terres Inovia (technical center interprofessional oilseeds, protein crops and hemp).
To obtain 8 tons of straw per hectare and 10 quintals of hempseed, count 150 units of potash, 50 units of phosphorus and 100 to 120 units of nitrogen, knowing that the plant restores a lot. On the other hand, hemp does not use pesticides. The interprofession has been fighting for years to obtain the status of “areas of ecological interest”. Eventually, the seeds can be treated against pythium, fusariumpythium, botrytis and rhizoctonia. The only known threat is the branching orobanche, a non-chlorophyllous parasitic plant that absorbs the mineral elements of hemp. “When a parcel is infected, it is impossible to grow hemp again. Terresinovia is working on this problem by selecting resistant varieties. For now, cases are mostly reported in the area of Troyes, “reassures Louis-Marie Allard. Another site of Terres Inovia: the qualification of hemp straws according to their retting quality. “Some manufacturers have very precise specifications. The stems usually remain a few days on the ground but depending on the weather, this can change their properties. We are therefore trying to invent spectral measurements that could be taken up by drones “, projects Louis-Marie Allard. … But variable yields Either, the yields of this rustic crop are very variable depending on the rains, drought and wind. In 2015, the national average yield was 6.1 tons of straw per hectare (but varies from 0.9 to 13 tons!) And 5.7 quintals of hempseed (ranging from 0.5 to 11.5 quintals). Nevertheless, it is an excellent rotating head. “We have tried to compare yield differences on wheat sown after hemp, rapeseed and sunflower. Hemp achieved slightly better results. Thanks to its deep and fasciculated pivot, it breaks clods and plantations have a better resistance to drought, “observes Jean-Marie Allard. Hemp also makes it possible to promote land with a high ecological stake: “Personally, I started growing hemp on my parcels situated in catchment area classified Natura 2000. In rotation, the cultivation of hemp does not require a phytosanitary product. In general, I do not put more than 50 units of nitrogen per hectare “, testifies Colette Martin, president of the association Hemp of Auvergne. Another environmental argument: thanks to its large biomass, one hectare of hemp consumes as much CO2 as one hectare of forest! The example of Auvergne hemp In 2008, the Civam d’Auvergne inaugurated the regional “hemp d’Auvergne” sector. “It was part of a reflection on the short circuits. The members of our association sell exclusively its hemp to local actors. The association sells nothing, it is a platform that connects producers with the closest customers, “says Colette Martin. Today, the association brings together about twenty farmers. “At the beginning, we had a lot of dreamy members who were the first agricultural experience. But it’s a real culture and they quickly gave up. You have to be well equipped to sow, harvest and dry hemp, “warns the president. Over the years, the association invested in a trommel and the products were also characterized by the Polytech school of Clermont-Ferrand. Average yields of members peak at between 4 and 6.5 tonnes, but production is in line with demand. For two years, the outlet of the building is weakening, and that of seeds is expanding. “The demand for construction collapsed because only three Auvergne masons still work with hemp. However, we have new demands for the seed. We are in contact with local cosmetics and paint industries. It must be said that hemp oil is particularly siccative. This is interesting for producers: the seed is more speculative than straw, the price of which has been constant since 1992. “Depending on the region, straw prices fluctuate between € 100 and € 130 per tonne, and up to € 1,000 per tonne. for hempseed. Note: some producers produce hemp to self-build a building, including cottages.