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High hopes for hemp harvests

Posted on August 3, 2000

Canterbury, New Zealand — Canterbury could produce top-quality hemp-seed oils for export, says a South Canterbury grower wanting to trial industrial hemp.

The possibility that industrial hemp may soon be growing in paddocks around New Zealand moved a step closer last week when Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle agreed in principle to trials. Customs officials will meet industry representatives on August 21 to work out a trial framework.

If it were to be grown commercially, hemp would have to be removed from the Misuse of Drugs Act and regulated under the Customs and Excise Act.

Industrial hemp is the same species of plant as marijuana but is very low in THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

David Musgrave, an organic farmer and trained agronomist from near Geraldine, believes Canterbury could produce top- quality hemp oils.

“The combination of climate and soils in Canterbury means we grow extremely good seed oils across the board. We reckon we produce the best flax-seed oil in the world, and reckon we could do the same with hemp.” He says flax-seed oil is high in cholesterol-reducing Omega 3 fatty acid. Hemp seed has Omega 3 plus other essential fatty acids that flax does not.

Small quantities of hemp-seed oil had been imported, but the quality had been disappointing.

David Musgrave says he would apply to trial hemp. It was important to trial as wide a range of varieties as possible.

Federated Farmers chief executive Tony St Clair says the case for industrial hemp has been made extensively overseas. “There’s no linkage between the THC levels of hemp and the drug variety.”

He says hemp offers a “tremendous opportunity” for diversification, particularly for arable farmers.

“Certainly some of our grain-section people have been very interested in it. A lot of work has been done in the Nelson area.”

Mac McIntosh, chairman of the New Zealand Industrial Hemp Association, says it is not a fait accompli that hemp will be grown commercially in New Zealand “There are still issues to be worked through.”

He says most Western nations are growing hemp, and he does not see the necessity for trials.

“Given that research has gone on around the world, there can only be one purpose of the trials — to make officials feel comfortable.”

He says end users of hemp are ready to set up. “The industry is sitting waiting for the product.”

“This isn’t a bunch of ageing hippies trying to legalise marijuana. The main aim is to get an industry up and going.”

Oil is one example. Another is a Nelson company planning to make wool- hemp mix housing insulation.

Other uses included strong, light building materials, fibre boards, and plastics.

Based on confirmed markets, the gross margin for seed and fibre from an average yield could be $3450, he says. A poor yield would gross around $1000, while a good yield would gross $4200.

Mac McIntosh says he does not think there is a big future for hemp textiles.

Photo: Reuters, Andrew Katelaris with the raw material for his Sydney-based hemp clothing company. Canterbury is seen as prime hemp-growing country.

Copyright © 2000, The Press. All rights reserved.