Hemp comes in from the cold: Once-banned crop catching on with farmers

Dave Jordan, chief executive of Hemp NZ and its subsidiary Hemp Farm. Photo / Supplied

Typically, says Jordan, farmers are looking at setting aside 20 to 50 hectares for hemp growing.

Hemp Farm started harvesting hemp on 53 hectares in 2014. The following year, the area nearly tripled to 150ha.

By 2018 the harvest came from 470ha and last year that figure almost tripled again to 1300ha.

Jordan now works with 70 growers, most of them in Canterbury, Waikato and Wairapapa.

Research and development

“The thing about this crop is that it has been in jail for so long that bringing it back out and putting it back on the table means that there will be a lot more research and development going on with all of us,” Jordan says.

For years, hemp has been lumped in with the psychoactive, high-THC strain of cannabis.
Now it is used in cereals for some well-known brands, in baking products and health foods.

As a land use, it is seen as a good rotation crop.

“There is a lot of interest in the crop,” Jordan says.

“I do see a big growth curve coming, especially since the world is more and more getting into health and wellbeing, especially after Covid.”

Hemp Farm processes hemp at Tauriko, near Tauranga.

There, the company extracts hemp oil from the seeds and makes bulk product to supply other companies with ingredients used in some well-known brands of cereals and baking products.

As Hemp Farm’s general manager Leigh Kite sees it, the industry has been battling misconceptions for years.

“The word ‘cannabis’ is very emotionally charged,” she says.

“People’s minds go instantly to recreational use of marijuana, or weed, or whatever you want to call it.

“There is more to the plant than that.”

Hemp fibre

While hemp seds yield oil, the stalk of the product is where the fibre comes from.

In the past, that fibre was an essential material for making sails and rope for ships.

These days the main use is for hemp oil — extracted from the seeds and packaged in capsule form — for use treating joint ailments.

The de-hulled seeds are used in snack bars and cereals.

“The current generation doesn’t know about it, so it’s a matter of rediscovering and re-educating,” says Kite.

Hemp, or industrial hemp, is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products.

It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fibre.

Hemp can be refined into a variety of commercial items, including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel and food — for people and animals.

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