Cash-strapped farmers in New South Wales (NSW) have welcomed  a ruling that they may legally cultivate hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant that can be used in food products, clothes and even plastic.

Farmers have got until 27 April to apply for a licence to grow the plant in a trial that will begin this spring, revealed a NSW agriculture spokesman. The resilient crop will grow in many conditions, requires little water and few chemicals, and unusually returns nutrients to the ground as it grows.

Graham Hockey, who has taken part in a narrower trial to grow the crop in Victoria and NSW for the last four years, commented that the change in attitude to hemp was being aided by the costs involved in cotton cultivation. It can also be attributed to the public demand for traditional crops, he added.

Hemp contains less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, the hallucinogenic ingredient that makes marijuana from the cannabis plant illegal. Marijuana contains about 12% THC.

To read last week's "feature of the week" on the hemp foods industry, click here.