Last 27th october in the frame of PANACEA_H2020 project a national value chain event focused on hemp chain was organized by CREA in Milano. About forty people, belonging to research, farm and industry sectors have attended the event. There is an increasing interest around this crop for its economic potential because of a new law for the promotion of the cultivation and agro-industrial chain. It is a renewed interest, since hemp has been cultivated in the past on great areas (in 1940 Italy was the main European producer with about 90,000 hectares) both in the north and in the south of Italy. The varieties cultivated in the past were selected for fibre production. With the introduction on the market of the synthetic fibres the cultivation was gradually abandoned. Currently, instead, the interest is mainly on seed production. The low availability of suitable hemp varieties for Italian environment, is one of the main critical issues came out from the discussion. The choice of the best crop varieties, cultivation practices and harvesting machineries, in relation to the destination (oil, fibre or both), is crucial for the success of the whole chain.
- The lack of uniformity of crop height resulted to be a common condition in the Italian hemp cultivation, probably due to the unsuitable varieties and agronomic practices. Such aspects make problematic the mechanical harvesting. In fact, the conventional combine harvesters in order to harvest the lowest plants (avoiding yield losing), cut the crop very low, at the risk of possible clogging of internal apparatus (introducing big pieces of stalks).
Apart from the request to work on genetic selection, two innovative ideas were proposed to uniform the height of hemp plants: the identification of the optimal interrow distance and seeding density; topping in the early growing stage of (1-meter height) was another suggestion. Both proposals are worthy to be investigated with specific trials.
- Hemp is a multipurpose crop. The valorisation of the whole plant (seeds, flowers and biomass) has been discussed as a crucial point to increase the overall profitability of the hemp chain. The availability and cost of suitable combined harvesters (new or modified), as well as the lack of end users for straw residues, are the main constraints.
For this point, three ideas were proposed. From economic point of view, farmers associations and cooperatives should be promoted to share the costs for purchasing the costly harvesters. Federcanapa and PANACEA Network could be the collectors of new initiatives and could promote cooperatives among its members.
Concerning the mechanical harvesting, two innovative methods for the combined harvesting (one pass and two phases harvesting) have been shown. The first is a commercial solution, all in one, allowing the seed threshing and mowing of stalks in one pass, for the next baling. The second solution foresees the mowing of stalks with a prototype, after the seed threshing with a modified combine harvester. Both solutions have been tested by CREA with specific trials.
Concluding this point, a very interesting idea has been showed by an attendant answering to the lack of plant for straw valorisation in Italy. A mobile scutching plant will be available in the next months. This is an interesting solution, allowing the reduction of the transport costs of low density biomass.
- With the aim to improve agricultural practices, the main Italian agricultural Associations have developed a Product specification for a certified and traceable hemp cultivation chain.
- The overall conclusion highlighted the need in the future to increase the dialogue among all the value chain actors. In order for this to happen, all the attendants have been invited to join the Panacea Network.
The Gaps and Challenges for the uptake of above mentioned innovative NFCs ideas and research:
- More research is needed on genetic selection of hemp varieties suitable for Italian environments.
- Improved agricultural practices should make mechanization easier.
- Specific trials are needed to test the ideas proposed to uniform the height of hemp plants (seeding density and topping) such as the performance and work quality of the proposed mobile plant for scutching.
- Training for farmers and agronomists are needed to show practice-oriented knowledge (growing system: sowing density and period, fertilization, weeding, etc.)