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Portugal: DGAV admits that CBD is its “big headache” and producers claim the use of the entire plant

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Photo: Crispin Jones @ Unsplash

The conference “Industrial Hemp – the (Re)birth of Fileira in Portugal” promoted by hemp and Consulate, which took place on January 30th in Beja, reaffirmed the potential of hemp as an agricultural product for the most diverse purposes. The great public support also confirmed the interest of farmers and industry in this historic crop and allowed the DGAV express your support for this sector and the producers (currently, there are 19 authorized, totaling 64,3 hectares of planting area). However, not everyone is happy with what is happening in the hemp sector in Portugal.

With an auditorium bursting at the seams, Susana Pombo, General Director of the General Directorate of Food and Veterinary Affairs (DGAV), opened the session on an encouraging note: “This is a unique opportunity to boost hemp cultivation in Portugal”. Among the public, farmers, consultants, researchers, industrialists and curious people watched, immovably, for about four hours, a round of lectures and a long (and somewhat confusing) round table on the potential of this new sector that is timidly “rebirth” in the country – despite police operations that, in recent years, have left some producers facing criminal proceedings, even though they have attested that their productions were legal by submitting all the required documents.

But the afternoon was for socializing and “networking”. And since this was an event organized by the hemp ecoblock company Canhâmor and the consultancy Consulai, with the support of DGAV, the focus was on cultivation for the production of fiber and hurds (the core of the hemp stalk, crushed – used to make the cannabricks that the Alentejo company produces).

The EDIA auditorium, in Beja, was filled to discuss hemp cultivation in Portugal

Resurrect a dormant culture

The objective of this meeting was to bring together local producers and parties involved in the industry, and promote communication to facilitate coordination between regulatory entities, industrialists and farmers interested in learning more about this promising crop. “Cânhamor felt the need to promote [this event] because this culture had fallen asleep and we felt it was important to resurrect it and, in this sense, we did our part”, explained Frederico Barreiro, the company's Commercial Director. But that's not all. Cânhamor is building a new processing unit in Ourique, an investment of 15 million Euros that will allow them to absorb hemp from up to 3 thousand hectares (ha) of crops (currently they receive raw material from around 250 ha and the first objective to achieve is 500 ha). This, translated into ecoblocks, means that if they are currently able to produce two to three hemp houses per month, with the new unit in full operation (3 shifts) they will have a capacity of 300 houses per month. To be able to feed the new factory, they created a partnership model for all those farmers who want to invest in hemp, which involves ensuring the purchase of all their production, as long as it has the minimum quality required.

However, farmers must meet certain prerequisites: have irrigation, because even though it requires little water, hemp is an irrigated crop; plant a minimum of 20 ha, to maximize logistics [the law requires 30 kg of seeds/ha, but Cânhamor recommends 50 to 60 kg/ha]; have an adequate soil pH, “the most critical factor” as explained by Pedro Santos, from Consulai in his presentation; and have their own machinery to carry out the necessary processing after harvest.

Then there are the post-harvest requirements, including that the hemp is dry and that the plants have a maximum diameter of 2 cm, due to the capacity of the equipment to separate the fibers from the stem. Despite using only the hurds from the stalk to produce its ecoblocks, Cânhamor buys the entire “straw”, the complete stalk, separating and then selling the fiber.

Farmers who want to plant hemp to become suppliers can count on Cânhamor's full support and the vast knowledge acquired by the brand over the years; and if they comply with the production plan and exceed the minimum volume required (7 tons/ha), they will receive a bonus or bonus.

At the moment, Cânhamor already has contracts signed with 15 to 20 producers and, according to Pedro Santos, they are “dealing with the processes to hand over to DGAV so that when they start sowing, in April, everything will be done. And in December they will be able to have their first ecoblocks manufactured in Cânhamor”, he announced.

“Collective hysteria” in a good way 

The factory is expected to be ready at the end of August / beginning of September this year. According to Frederico Barreiro “it is already an urgency - These are “the (good) growing pains” - because interest has exploded and we want to be able to respond to the market, not only nationally but also Spanish”. The commercial director of Cânhamor also said that “it was a three-year work, with the ecoblocks, which culminates today with this event, because it was necessary to close the circle and, for that – to fulfill the premises of sustainability and negative carbon footprint and etc. – it only made sense to bring together local producers. To see the room full today is to feel that people believe in our project and that they realize the almost infinite potential of hemp.”

In fact, the construction world is receiving this product very well. “People are very excited, the sector is… I will use this word in a good sense: there is collective hysteria, there is an interest among architects in working with hemp and engineers also understand the value of this new product because it is much superior”, he commented. Barreiro. The advantages it has as a thermal and acoustic insulator over commonly used materials, as well as its fire-retardant properties, have proven to be important added values ​​for architects and engineers.

Cânhamor's strategy appears to be very positive and is already bearing fruit. The General Directorate of Food and Veterinary was also vehement with the initiative and with this revival of hemp cultivation in general. Paula Cruz Garcia, engineer and sub-director of DGAV, stated that for the regulatory entity “collaboration with Cânhamor is very important”, further declaring that “this event was born from the need we had to support this culture, because it creates jobs, creates wealth, and it also has undeniable environmental benefits.”

According to the information sent to CannaReporter by Paula Cruz Garcia, in 2023, DGAV granted “19 requests for authorization to cultivate Cannabis sativa for industrial use, in a total of 64,3 hectares” of hemp planting area.

Paula Cruz, from DGAV, reaffirmed that hemp cultivation in Portugal is only for the production of fibers and seeds

Hemp or “industrial cannabis”? 

DGAV, however, is aware of the difficulties that producers still experience and the challenges that hemp presents as an agricultural product. Paula Cruz Garcia recalled that DGAV itself had some difficulties in reaching specific legislation and regulations that “positively differentiated” the Cannabis sativa industrial, as he prefers to call it, of the existing legislation on cannabis sativa for other purposes (medicinal, recreational). “It would be practically impossible for a farmer to comply with all the existing requirements applied to the cultivation of the medicinal cannabis plant.” At the moment, the legislative framework already allows farmers to comply with the rules, “but the legislation is not something written in stone and therefore, since the rules are drawn up at national level – there is a Spanish diploma, a French diploma, etc. – as long as the basic principles of community legislation are respected, we always have national room to improve.”

The deputy director of DGAV also took the opportunity to clarify other doubts that have come to them from producers such as, for example, about the powers of the regulatory entity. “They believed that DGAV had an obligation to authorize the cultivation of Cannabis sativa for the production of flowers, due to the confusion about what CBD is and, therefore, it was difficult to get the message across that the General Directorate of Food and Veterinary has a very specific competence, which is industrial cannabis, and this has the to do with the production of fibers and the production of seeds for animal and human food”, he explained, concluding: “Everything that is another type of production, namely flowers for the production of CBD, is the responsibility of Infarmed – although we know that CBD can have multiple uses other than just medicinal ones.”

CBD: DGAV’s “big headache”

In relation to cannabidiol in particular, the engineer admitted that it was “our biggest headache”, but stressed that, even after the decision of the European Judicial Court (relating to the Kannavape case), the legislation is clear: “CBD is a new food, yes; but a new food is one that has no history of consumption before 15 May [19]97, and all foods that have no history of consumption before this date must go through an assessment process, which goes through the European Food Authority. Food Safety, before being able to enter the so-called catalog of new foods”. That is, although it is considered a new food, it is not yet an authorized food. Therefore, “anyone who wants to produce hemp to produce CBD has to go to Infarmed”, she warns.

As for the “control system – carried out by IFAP and also by the police forces”, said the engineer, they are very important “because it is necessary to differentiate the fields authorized by DGAV from those that are not authorized.”

Among the other topics discussed was the importance of research, which could allow the obtaining of varieties of Portuguese seeds that are more suitable for the country's climatic conditions, which would allow reducing imports of a commodity that could easily be produced in Portugal.

The positive aspects that the reintroduction of hemp can have for Portuguese farmers and fields in economic and environmental terms, as well as the plant's “infinite potential”, were also widely exposed throughout the afternoon, revealing the enthusiasm that can be felt in the air.

Before concluding her intervention, Paula Cruz Garcia also left a message for the producers: “We never had any prejudice against this culture, on the contrary, we fought with the Ministry of Agriculture to have a legal framework that would truly allow the rebirth of this culture. And we succeeded. These more technical laws in terms of areas and seeding density are national laws and, therefore, we are available to evolve in normative terms to adapt to the reality of production in Portugal. Obviously, the small DGAV team that works on industrial hemp is always available to help, clarify and place this crop once again among the most important in agro-industrial and industrial, in terms of fibers and textiles.”

But there are those who are truly unhappy and argue that what was said in this session is not in line with reality. Current regulations and the solutions advocated by DGAV – and even by Cânhamor – restrict producers, leaving them little room for maneuver to develop their projects and take advantage of the full potential of this versatile plant.

Leonardo Sousa is a young entrepreneur who grows hemp in the Covilhã region and the Azores. Photo: Laura Ramos | CannaReporter

“Let us use the whole plant!”

Pedro Santos, from Consulai, said that “hemp is a bit like pig, you can use everything”. Had this event not been taking place in Alentejo, the analogy might have seemed strange. However, it is accurate. But to have the full potential that we are talking about and to truly take advantage of everything the plant has to offer, it seems necessary to give producers some flexibility. They want to have more decision-making power in terms of minimum cultivation area, planting density and deadlines to decide the fate of their product, as it is the climatic phenomena that they experience at each sowing that will determine the quality. of the product, therefore, the possible purpose. This goes against what the law requires and also what was defended by Flavien Casal Ribeiro, from Cânhamor, during the round table, who insisted on the importance of clearly defining the purpose of cultivation a priori.

Leonardo Sousa, hemp producer and owner of the Lynx Hemp brand, based in Covilhã and with a plot of cultivation also in São Miguel, in the Azores, disagrees with the legislation and this stance: “I want to be able to decide what I want to do with my plants and with my seeds – if I have apple trees, the most beautiful apples go to the market and the ugliest ones go to the jam factory”, he explained, concluding that “the same should happen with hemp”.

For this producer, since hemp is a monoculture, it should be a monoculture that allows the creation of many products – from biofuels to hemp protein to diluents. “But they encourage planting only for monoproducts and I would rather have hemp to make bread than to make bricks,” he says. And it’s not just for a humanitarian reason, although that’s that too. The profits that can be obtained with different products are quite different. “If the fiber is priced at €400/ton and the shiv [Where hurds] give 600€/tonne, organic seeds can be sold for 3000€/tonne and non-bio seeds for 2300€/tonne… Why should I have the same work planting for straw [the entire stem] if Can I plant it for seeds?” he asks.

The problem has to do with density per hectare. The law requires planting 30 kg/ha, but for some purposes the ideal density is lower, as Leonardo Sousa explains: “The best density for planting seeds is 10 to 20 kg/ha and not what is defined [in the law] .” The reason is that plants with less space grow more in search of light, producing longer fibers; and plants with more space become bushy, producing short fibers and a greater quantity of seeds.

In Portugal, hemp cultivation can only be used to produce fiber or seeds. The sale of flowers or CBD is prohibited. Photo: Laura Ramos | CannaReporter

On the other hand, the issue of flowers (which contain CBD and not only) is also a headache for producers and the consultants who advise them. One of them, who did not want to be identified, later showed his frustration, shouting in anger: “Let us use the whole plant!” Currently considered waste and prevented from leaving the production site, the inflorescences and flowering parts of the hemp plant could also be a valuable source of income for the sector. Prices can range, depending on quality, from €500 to €1000/kg and can be used to extract oil and also terpenes, to supply the food and cosmetics industries, for example. But according to this producer and consultant, there are other interests that appear to be blocking their access to this important commodity. Which? “Those from the medicinal cannabis pharmaceutical industry, obviously!”, he responds without hesitation.

 

A long way to go

Meanwhile, a hemp producer in the region is facing criminal charges for drug trafficking, after a RAID surprise from GNR at the end of last year. According to the defendant, “there was no trafficking, the flowering sums were inside the property; and there were no drugs either, since it was all hemp – and with seeds”. As CannaReporter has reported over the past few years, there have been several similar cases in which police destroy hemp crops, mistaking it for cannabis. Some have been waiting for a decision for more than two years.

Therefore, in conclusion, despite there being interest from the industry and authorities, there are still obstacles to the cultivation of hemp in Portugal. The current paradigm is not ideal. It is necessary to think of hemp as a “whole”. There is still a way to go and it will be necessary to make adjustments to agricultural law and practice in order to take advantage of the full potential of this crop and obtain the benefits it could bring to numerous sectors of agriculture, industry and even at a social level.

While initiatives like Cânhamor can have a very positive impact in terms of “reviving” this sector in Portugal, as well as for agricultural development and the consolidation of good environmental practices, there are barriers and many possibilities yet to be explored. But what some farmers want, and which Leonardo Sousa has been openly defending, is for hemp cultivation to be normalized and the plant to be treated like any other, with fewer rules and fewer complications, which is already happening in some countries in Europe, such as France – the largest hemp producer in the European Union.

 

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* Margarita Cardoso de Meneses adopts the new spelling agreement.

 

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[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may occur in other languages.]

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