A Whanganui hemp farming operation has moved into stage two of the enterprise adding essential infrastructure to the mix.
Rangitikei farmer Duncan Matthews and his fellow Hemp Connect partners, Wellington mates Werner Schulze and Matt Johnson and his China-based father Craig, are in their second season growing hemp on Matthews' family farm at Kauangaroa just beyond Fordell in Whanganui.
The first season harvest from 5 hectares planted yielded about 4 tonne of seed. Once harvested the crop went through the drying process and the directors canvassed farmers around the country to get on board to buy and plant seed.
The second season 10.8ha was planted and just a few weeks ago between 800,00kg and 1 tonne of seed per hectare was harvested.
Ultimately the aim is to become the hemp hub for the lower North Island, but to achieve that Hemp Connect needs volume to harvest and process.
After consultation with iwi the company has set up a processing plant in Whanganui and the plan is to produce their own hemp seed products as well as offer farmers the option of selling their new seed back to them, or toll processing their seeds and returning the resulting product for them to take to market themselves.
The Bay Of Plenty Hemp Co is Hemp Connect's first toll processing client, sending down 2.2 tonne of seed and have another 5.2 tonne arriving from another grower next week.
"We also have orders to process 6 tonnes, 4 tonnes and then our own," Johnson said.
Setting up the processing plant was expensive and Hemp Connect is focusing on producing the vital ingredient in super-foods, but there are a raft of end products that can be produced. They will look at that as they move on.
Schulze said they had bought their own drier, although a larger one was needed to keep pace with a growing yield from harvest.
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"There is a process after harvest and that involves drying and dressing (cleaning) the seed. The seed is then graded into three sizes and then we decide which was to go from there," Schulze said.
"We can either dehull the seed producing a final product to be sold retail or wholesale, or we can press the seed to extract oil as a final product to be sold retail or wholesale. If we go down the oil way there is a cake byproduct that can be milled into a protein powder or flour - either way the end product can then be sold."
The Hemp Connect factory has been set up in the former Ucol campus, now the Tupoho Community Complex.
"The Whanganui District Council was spectacular to deal with and issued us the consents we needed in an extremely rapid and professional manner - we are now fully compliant and ready to go.
"Demand is outstripping supply at the moment, so we are keen to help other farmers get established and focus of value added processes. We are replanting 100ha in November and ideally we'd like to scale up the operation and have 1000ha planted in seed around the region in two or three years.
"We are focusing on the domestic market for now, but we will be certainly be looking at expanding into the international market in the future."
Hemp oil is most commonly sourced from the Cannabis Sativa (industrial hemp) plant seed. Hemp oil is regulated in its production and is tested for THC and CBD levels, however it does not contain either of those cannabinoids. Tests have shown that there are no cannabinoids present in the seeds of the hemp plant.
Hemp oil is most commonly referred to as a super-food, because of the high levels of omegas, vitamins, and other nutrients. It may also assist with pain, and stress due to its naturally occurring nutrients. Hemp oil is also excellent for hair and skin thanks to all of those omegas and vitamins.
Reaction from people is mixed about growing hemp with many still making an assumption it is somehow akin to growing marijuana which is clearly not the case.
"There are stringent processes we had to go through to gain the licences we required to grow this crop," Schulze said.
Hemp carries a lot of stigma, mainly because it looks like marijuana, but the Hemp Connect directors said once people get over the "giggle factor" they can see it is a legitimate, serious, environmentally-friendly business that can yield serious returns.
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