On Monday 16 October, the first edition of the international Hemp & Industry conference took place in Prague, focusing on the use of industrial hemp in many areas of industry and local, sustainable economy. The interest of the participants was considerable and attracted hemp experts from all over the world to the Czech Republic to share their know-how, present innovative projects and at the same time establish new business partnerships.
Among the speakers were nearly twenty experts on hemp cultivation, hemp seed and its nutritional importance, processing of the stalk into fibre and its possible use in a wide range of industries.
A tradition worth following
The cultivation and processing of hemp has a long tradition in Europe and, with the growing interest in natural materials, it is once again coming to the fore. The area sown in Europe has increased by 250% in the last 30 years and yet hemp materials are still in short supply. This is matched by the rising prices of hemp raw materials on the market.
It was great to see so many innovative and CO2 negative projects.
The conference brought together more than 80 hemp entrepreneurs, mainly from Europe, but also visitors from North America and Asia. The range of participants was very diverse, from growers to stem processors to experts in the seed as a superfood or manufacturers of innovative products made from renewable materials. In addition to managers and directors, there were also representatives of family farms and self-sufficient operations.
Four inspiring panels
The first panel was dedicated to climate protection and the development of the bioeconomy. Nando Knodel from the German company HempConnect presented his study on carbon credits and described the new economic opportunity this offers not only to hemp growers but also to biochar producers. Maren Krings, also from Germany, presented her book H is for Hemp, which is essentially an encyclopaedia of technical hemp – printed entirely on hemp paper. The invitation was also accepted by Pavel Zedníček, Executive Director of the INCIEN Institute, which is dedicated to the circular economy and decarbonisation of the Czech industry.
The topic of hemp seed and its nutritional values was discussed by representatives of the sector in the second panel, which, in addition to the food industry, also included space for medical applications. This is the focus of the Czech company Plazma For People, which is trying to find an organic substitute for blood plasma. The ideal candidate appears to be edestin, a protein contained in hemp seed. Innovations in the field of hemp use in nutrition were presented by Florian Pichlmaier from the German company Signature Products or František Švejda from the Czech company Hemp Factory, who is working on linking the nutritional benefits of hemp seed and cannabinoids for use in the food industry. Michael Bider from the German company Hanf Farm presented a unique project of complex hemp processing called Phytorafinery and called for massive investments in processing and cultivation technologies.
The third panel focused on building infrastructure for hemp stalk processing, which is the alpha and omega of hemp industry development worldwide. For example, Michael Marchuk of Ukrainian Hemp, which grows and processes hemp on 900 hectares in war-torn Ukraine, described his journey. He uses it to produce natural materials for building or renovating houses, as well as sustainable packaging.
The range of participants was very diverse, from growers to stem processors to experts in the seed as a superfood or manufacturers of innovative products.
Maciej Kowalski from Kombinat Konopny, which is reviving traditional long fibre processing in Poland, also came to share his experience in developing textile fibre production. Galina Elchaninova from the French company ANDRITZ Laroche, which is a leading French company in the field of textile recycling as well as in the processing of synthetic and natural fibres, presented new technologies for processing hemp fibre not only for the textile industry.
The last panel dedicated to innovation featured Paulo Ronchetti from Tecnocanapa, an Italian company that is one of the European leaders in the production of hemp blocks and other building materials. In order to meet new trends and the needs of the end customer, the company has developed a building material made of a mixture of hemp, lime and probiotics for environmentally friendly construction. Tom Mathys, a representative of the American company HempWood, presented a unique technology that can replace wood materials not only in the construction industry, but also in the furniture and flooring industry.
The Czech representative in the last panel, Patrik Majringer, summarized in his presentation more than 15 years of experience in building with hemp materials in the Czech Republic, including his own production of prefabricated panels made of hempcrete. The online presentation due to a sudden illness was given by one of the leading hemp builders Steve Allin from Ireland, founder of the International Hemp Building Association.
Lack of support
Whether it was small farmers, large farms, enthusiastic students or researchers, all agreed that support for hemp cultivation and processing by individual governments and the European Union as a whole is insufficient, even though it is fully in line with the Green Deal. The main question of the conference was: How to further develop and expand the sector and attract the necessary investment?
“We firmly believe that with this conference we have managed to bring together a number of players in the field of technical cannabis and start interesting collaborations. We may have given birth to a new tradition of cannabis conferences, which are not about the often talked about cannabinoids THC or CBD, but about the unjustly neglected industrial use of this versatile plant,” said Hana Gabrielová, President of CzecHemp.
The main question of the conference was: How to further develop and expand the sector and attract the necessary investment?
In addition, the conference continued on Tuesday with the so-called matchmaking part, where registered participants could meet again and arrange individual meetings with other interested parties. For those who had time until Wednesday, three excursions to research institutes and companies in the vicinity of Prague working with cannabis were also prepared.
State administration sees potential
Although representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and others were invited directly, in the end the only representative of the state administration was one of the presenters, Filip Kruta from CzechInvest and EcoTech Hub. “With regard to climate change, it was great to see so many innovative and CO2 negative projects. Whether it was hempcrete, insulation or organic blood plasma research. The key aspect, in my opinion, is a unified approach to standardisation and certification of industrial products, which would allow hemp products to become full-fledged, sustainable substitutes for conventional materials. This would also facilitate the scalability of these innovations, both in industry and in policy making,” explained Krůta.
We can only hope that participation from the authorities will be higher next year. We are convinced that the state should be interested in supporting a versatile and versatile crop that has a rich tradition in the Czech Republic and a great future ahead of it!
The conference was organised by the Czech Hemp Cluster CzecHemp within the EU project HempClub and with the support of the COSME programme. A recording of all lectures and panel discussions is available to the public online on the CzecHemp YouTube channel. A big thank you to the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Information, where the conference was held, and to the media partners Konopí magazine and Experience Hemp.
The Czech Hemp Cluster CzecHemp is a sectoral cluster bringing together non-profit organisations, educational and research institutions and businesses active in the hemp sector with the aim of developing the hemp and cannabis sector in the Czech Republic and throughout Europe.
Hana Gabrielová, President: phone no.: +420 777 027 012, e-mail: email@example.com
Lukáš Hurt, Manager: phone no.: +420 730 128 319, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org