It was a race against the clouds for hemp producers in Northern Tasmania, hoping to harvest as much of their paddocks as possible before rain and moisture in the air affected their crops.
Some 800 hectares of hemp is grown for Ananda Food by 14 Tasmanian growers, set to be harvested by mid April, which is around half of Tasmanian's total hemp harvest.
The state grows more than 60 per cent of Australia's industrial hemp, with some in the industry touting it as a great alternative to poppies, offering growers an opportunity to fill the gaps where poppy production declined.
Yet the state, along with the rest of Australia, is missing out on lucrative opportunities due to restrictive laws surrounding the plant.
Ananda Food has a connection to Tasmania stretching back 20 years when it first began testing varieties of cannabis sativa under the banner of Hemp Australia.
Managing director Kieren Brown said it was conducting research very early in the hemp sector, growing trials and testing different seed varieties, mainly around Launceston.
"Our parent company has over 300 plus cultivars of cannabis sativa. They had several research streams in various areas of hemp, in fibre as well as food, and they were also trialling varieties for CBD in the future."
We don't want hemp to be a niche food. I'd like to see it in everyone's kitchen cupboard and therefore it has to be accessible, known as a food that can be used with every meal and not just on special occasions.Ananda Food managing director Kieren Brown
Ananda Food is a subsidiary of Ecofibre, a biotechnology company specialising in the spectrum of hemp products, including food, fibre and medicinal cannabis.
It's sister company Ananda Hemp is focused on cannabanoid oils, becoming the first Australian company to import medicinal cannabis from the US to be sold to Australians.
This was a move driven by Ecofibre's owner Barry Lambert whose grandaughter suffers from Dravet Syndrome and requires CBD paste to reduce devastating seizures.
Ananda Hemp focuses on food, with Mr Brown employed in 2018 after the legalisation of hemp seed food production in Australia, with the company now working with some of the best farmers in Tasmania.
"We have some very strong [hemp] varieties suitable for Tasmania, and we are continuing to test for varieties that are set to come on in the next couple of years that will lift yields again."
He added that he would like to see hemp food products as a staple in a majority of household pantries.
"We don't want hemp to be a niche food. I'd like to see it in everyone's kitchen cupboard and therefore it has to be accessible, known as a food that can be used with every meal and not just on special occasions."
Mr Brown said the key to further agricultural possibility was to continue to monitor demand, to remove legal restrictions and remove confusion between hemp as a food and hemp grown for CBD.
The current state of play in Australia
In Australia non-psychoactive cannabis sativa plants are grown as industrial hemp in broad acre crops in Tasmania and only produce trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is the chemical compound known for getting people high.
These plants are grown for their seeds which are then processed and can be used in cereals, made into protein powders or pressed for oil.
They can also be grown for cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive compound found in medicinal cannabis, which is found in the flowering heads of the plant.
In the US and other countries hemp can be grown outdoors and its materials sold for food, fibre aas well as medical products, but under Australian law those harvesting hemp for CBD must hold the relevant licenses and must grow the plants with full security under covered crops.
These laws not only restrict growth of broadacre hemp crops but limit commercial participation in the use of some 300 compounds which exist in the cannabis sativa plant and which are already used worldwide for various nutraceutical, medicinal and industrial purposes.
Such laws cause significant frustration for companies in the Tasmanian hemp sector.
ECS Botanics founder Alex Keach grows organic industrial hemp in Northern Midlands and also contracts conventional hemp growers across that region to supply ECS products.
This includes hemp seed oil, capsules, shelled seeds and protein powders, as well value added products such has soups and curry sauces, which are sold in Woolworths nationally, and online.
Mr Keach said his Tasmanian company also holds cultivation and manufacturing licenses for medicinal cannabis, and plans to build a facility in the Northern Midlands.
"From a quality point of view there is no better place in the world to grow this plant," Mr Keach said.
"Our temperate climates are ideal. The plant likes to know when to be in a vegetative state and when to start flowering, and the cool climates provide consistency. They also enable good quality oils in terms of the depth of Omega-3's but also, you don't get early oxidisation like in northern environments, so you get a stable, consistent, long shelf life product."
He said industrial hemp has relatively good water use efficiency, grows quickly and sequesters plenty of carbon.
Hemp has rotational benefits and can provide an opportunity to increase returns. It has also been viewed as a comparatively good alternative to poppies on a returns and sustainable farming basis.ECS Botanics founder Alex Keach
"This year, its returns will rival fattening lambs under pivot, but who knows, next year, when the price of hemp seed drops back."
Mr Keach argues that hemp could become an important and lucrative crop in the Tasmanian agricultural system "but only if we can do more with the plant".
He gives an ominous warning that restrictive legislation and high production costs, when compared to the rest of the world, could result in the hemp industry in Tasmania dying before it has even begun.
"This is why we have chosen a diversified cannabis business operating across both industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis," he said.
"We grow a crop where the law says we can only process just a small part of it.
"We need to be able to have full utilisation of the plant, whether that be for food, industrial extracts, fibre or medicine, and if we don't get enabling legislation we won't be able to compete for centre pivot irrigation space and the state won't get the job creation."
Hemp Harvests co-founder Tim Crow built a hemp seed processing facility in Red Hills, Deloraine, which has the capacity to process up to three thousand tonnes of seed per year.
He is very prepared for the growth of hemp in the state and believes it has the potential to replicate the former successes of the poppy industry, but he too is worried about lost opportunity for growers and the industry.
"On a large scale there has been a societal trend away from the pharmaceutical model to natural medicine, and so the transition from poppies to hemp could be a possibility," he said.
He added that thousands of dollars of farming profit is lost under the current model, where "potentially the most valubale part of the plant" which is the flowering heads and leaves used for CBD, are destroyed or left to decompose in fields.
"Tassie is definitely leading the way in Australia but we are constantly hindered due to the stigma that is attached to the plant and we want legislation to reflect the evidence and the science," he said.