Taranki, New Zealand — The South Island 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 two weeks ago 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 “drug” 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 said flax-seed oil was high in cholesterol-reducing Omega 3 fatty acid. Hemp seed had Omega 3 plus other essential fatty acids that flax did not.
Small quantities of hemp-seed oil had been imported, but the quality had been disappointing.
Mr Musgrave said 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 said the case for industrial hemp had been made extensively overseas. “There’s no linkage between the THC levels of hemp and the drug variety.”
He said hemp offered 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, said it was not a fait accompli that hemp would be grown commercially in New Zealand.
He said most Western nations were growing hemp, and he did not see the need 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 said end users of hemp were ready to set up. “The industry is sitting waiting for the product. This isn’t a bunch of aging hippies trying to legalise marijuana. The main aim is to get an industry up and going.”
A Nelson company wanted to make wool-hemp mix batts for housing insulation. Other uses included strong, light building materials, fibre boards and plastics, and oil.
Based on confirmed markets, the gross margin for seed and fibre from an average yield could be $3450/ha, Mr McIntosh said. A poor yield would gross around $1000/ha, while a good yield would gross $4200/ha.
Mr McIntosh said he did not think there was a big future for hemp textiles.
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