IN a ten-acre field near Coleraine a farmer has been growing a crop that would make people's jaws drop in amazement. The massive cannabis field - the size of six football pitches - is ready to be harvested now -and to smokers of the weed it must seem like a vision of heaven!
Milne Rowntree exclusively reports on a ten-acre crop of cannabis being grown at a Coleraine farm
The Coleraine Times has been given exclusive access to the top secret project which is even under special licence by the government.
The ten-acre crop - at an undisclosed location in the borough - has now grown to more than 12 FEET and could produce many tonnes of hemp each year.
The farm has been specially licensed under the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to allow it to import hemp seeds and grow the cannabis plants.
The crop is being grown for commercial uses only such as insulating buildings and car panels.
After long discussions with the farmer involved this newspaper has been given the full, exclusive story.
He says: "You could smoke the whole ten acres and it wouldn't do you any good. There's nothing in the leaves to make you high. It's a different strain of cannabis altogether."
IN a ten-acre field near Coleraine a farmer has been growing a crop that would make people's jaws drop in amazement.
The massive cannabis field - the size of six football pitches - is ready to be harvested now -and to smokers of the weed it must seem like a vision of heaven!
All is not as it seems, however, as the entire operation has been given the blessing of both police and government and it's the stems and not the leaves that are of interest.
The Coleraine Times has had exclusive access to the secret farm and watched as the crop matured into 12-foot high plants ready for harvest.
For interests of security we have agreed not to name the farmer or the location of the field where the cannabis is growing.
The farmer said: "We have to keep this well away from the public eye. A lot of people would love to get into the middle of it and a lot of damage could be caused.
"Mind you, they wouldn't get much out of it. We are growing the cannabis plants for the fibres in the stalks. You could smoke the whole ten acres and it wouldn't do you any good.
"There is nothing in the leaves to make you high. It is a different strain of cannabis altogether."
Despite this the crop can only be grown under licence and is subject to strict control. There are severe penalties for people found cultivating, producing or being in possession of cannabis, without lawful authority.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety license all the farms involved in the project. This allows them to import seed and grow the plants.
The proper name for the plant is 'Cannabis sativa', a member of the hemp family famous for its hallucinogenic qualities - but for local farmers it could become a quality source of income for the fibres in its stalks.
The strain used has been developed so that there is no THC content, the ingredient that could stimulate brain activity and give the 'high' sought by drug users.
It all stems back to environmental issues and renewable resources. The hemp plants and their fibres have a whole range of environmentally friendly uses.
The fibres can be used in building, insulation and soil stabilisation matting. They will also be used in making moulded parts for top end motor cars, to help the manufacturers meet strict recycling and renewable resource controls.
The other by-products will be high-grade animal bedding from the core of the stalk and fuel briquettes from the dust and other parts of the plant. A mechanical process removes the fibres from the woody core of the stem of the plant.
In a 1.4 million investment in the North West, Ireland's first natural fibre production plant will soon be operational in Limavady.
The company behind the scheme, Fibre Solutions (NI) Ltd, plan to process up to 10,000 tonnes of hemp each year, the equivalent of 2,500 acres of hemp.
The farmer said: "This could be really big if it takes off. Renewable resources are very important to the future.
"This is the first year of growing hemp commercially in Northern Ireland and it is all part of the development of the processing plant in Limavady. We have had to bring in a special harvester from Europe to cut the crop and we are in the process of doing that now.
"When it is cut we let it dry in the field, like retting in flax production, and then we bale it to send it for processing to remove the fibres. There are a number of other farms around the North West involved in the trial, all within economical range of the plant.
"The hemp itself is ideally suited to Northern Ireland. It needs no pesticide and it grows so quickly that weeds can't compete. It was growing at over 10 inches a week during the summer, reaching 12 feet in 13 weeks.
"We are also looking at other aspects of the crop such as seed and oil production. Hemp oil is a well known natural remedy and that could also be a possibility for the future."
A licence to grow hemp is still needed in Northern Ireland but that is in common with other countries across Europe. The potential and demand for environmentally sound hemp products are growing rapidly and recently even the state of California is believed to have licensed wide-scale production.
The farmer is looking forward to the future prospects for hemp production. "This is a trial but I believe there is a great future for the crop and the products coming from it. It is new to Northern Ireland but hopefully it will become a major part of the agricultural scene."
People should remember that cannabis is illegal and that drug abuse can lead to all sorts of mental health and other problems.
Cannabis is a class C illegal drug and possession, use and supply of it is an offence. It is also an offence to drive under the influence of drugs. The penalties can be severe and could result in imprisonment.