Farms Go To Pot For High Profits! 

Farms Go To Pot For High Profits! 
Posted by FoM on August 29, 1999 at 09:48:11 PT
By Tom Robbins and Nicholas Rufford 
Source: Sunday Times
 LIVESTOCK farming has gone to pot. A European Union scheme which pays 500 a hectare to British farmers to grow cannabis is proving more attractive than rearing sheep or cattle. 
Dozens of farmers in East Anglia, Wales and the West Country have already turned over some of their fields to the 10ft plants, which are used for making cigarette papers, animal bedding and industrial fibre. Cannabis is a controlled drug in Britain and the farms are visited by a Home Office drugs inspector, who checks that the site is secure before granting a licence. Under government rules the crop must be grown away from roads so as to deter would-be marijuana-smokers from raiding the fields. The scheme is described as lunacy by Eurosceptics, who point out that the crop would be uneconomic without the Brussels subsidy. Farmers, however, are delighted to have discovered an escape route from the collapsing livestock industry, which in the past fortnight has seen bull calves abandoned in telephone boxes and sheep dumped with the RSPCA. William Roffe-Silvester, who farms 130 acres in Devon, last year turned over 17 acres of grazing to cannabis. Before the change he was losing money rearing beef cattle. Now, he says, he is making a healthy profit. "I've got plans to grow more next year, and if the [livestock] situation gets worse I would be looking to go into the hemp in a bigger way," he said. "Many of my neighbours are also looking at it." Livestock farmers are not normally allowed to claim subsidies for growing crops on land converted from grazing, even if they sell all their animals and change their entire farm to arable growth. However, a quirk in EU regulations makes cannabis an exception, along with flax, another crop used in the production of paper and fibre. As a result, cannabis cultivation has become the fastest-growing EU agricultural scheme in Britain in recent months. The area under cultivation has grown from almost nothing in the early 1990s to at least 2,500 hectares today. Across Europe, 22,000 hectares of cannabis were grown in 1997, the last year for which the EU has produced figures. The cost to European taxpayers was 11m. However, there is little demand for cannabis sold legally on the open market. Without subsidy, each hectare of cannabis would fetch between 240 and 480. With seed costs at nearly 190 per hectare, farmers would be left with no profit without the EU incentive. None the less, the plant has a growing fan club among Britain's eco-elite. Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop which sells a range of toiletries and cosmetics that is based on cannabis, described it as "the wonder-crop of the century". Harvested cannabis sativa, also known as hemp, is bought in Britain by a company called Hemcore, which also supplies seed to all the 80 farms now growing the crop. The cannabis strain being grown is of low narcotic potency. However, government drugs inspectors conduct random tests to ensure that farmers are not substituting their own more powerful varieties. August 29 1999 Copyright 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd. 
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