Deputy Steve Luce is encouraging the Island’s farmers to diversify into high-value and low-input crops rather than growing Jersey Royals in the same ground every year – a move he says is vital if the rural economy is to remain viable.
Aside from this year’s hemp trial, which took place in a secret location, farmers are also attempting to grow tea and honeyberries, a ‘super-food’ that tastes like a cross between raspberries and blueberries.
The hemp was sewn in fields in the spring and harvested in September. Earlier this month samples of hemp oil, which is used in cooking, were presented to high-ranking politicians who gathered in Jersey for the British-Irish Council.
A spokeswoman for the Environment Department said that the samples were well received. Deputy Luce added: ‘The hemp trials seem to have been a real success, and as a consequence of that success I’m confident that we will see an application for a large increase in the area of hemp grown next year.
‘I can’t say how important this type of trial work is to securing a sustainable future for the agricultural industry. We need this diversification to sit alongside our core businesses of potatoes and dairy to help keep the countryside viable. The department looks forward to being able to assist with other new trials in the near future.’
A special one-year licence was granted by Health Minister Andrew Green to allow the hemp-growing trial to take place. It is understood that this would be extended, if necessary.
One of the aims of introducing greater crop rotation in Jersey is to eradicate potato eelworm – potato cyst nematode or PCN – which is considered the biggest threat to the Jersey Royal crop because it damages roots and tubers.
By finding high-value alternative crops, it is believed that crop rotation will improve soil and water quality and reduce the required use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers.
Four varieties of hemp are being trialled in the Island. The top third of the plant is pressed for oil, which can be used for cooking and in salads. The lower two-thirds, which is approximately ten feet of stalk, are harvested, dried and bailed and can be used for animal bedding on local farms.