A field of green in Kauangaroa is poised to yield a bumper enterprise for the lower North Island with Whanganui its hub.
Well that is the intention of Rangitikei farmer Duncan Matthews and his fellow Hemp Connect partners, Wellington mates Werner Schulz and Matt Johnson. Johnson's China-based father Craig is also in on the act.
The Hemp Connect directors are in their second season growing hemp on Matthews' family farm at Kauangaroa just beyond Fordell in Whanganui.
"Ultimately our aim is to become the hemp hub for the lower North Island," Matthews said.
"I have been looking into the prospect of growing hemp since the 90s and Matt's dad Craig has been a mate for years. So when I was visiting him in China a couple of years back I mentioned to him I was keen. Craig has connections in the hemp trade in China and it's all happened since then, really.
"Werner, Matt, Craig and I formed Hemp Connect and went about getting all the approvals to grow crops. Last year was our first growing season and we planted 5-hectares that yielded about 4 tonne of seed.
"We harvested that, went through the drying process and canvassed farmers to get on board and buy and plant seed.
"After consultation with iwi we have set up a processing plant in Whanganui and the plan is to produce our own hemp seed products as well as offer farmers the option of selling their new seed back to us, or toll processing their seeds and returning the resulting product for them to take to market themselves.
"Setting up the processing plant was expensive and we'll focus on producing the vital ingredient in super foods, but there are a raft of end products that can be produced. We will look at that as we move on."
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. Test have shown that there are no cannabinoids present in the seeds of the hemp plant.
Hemp oil is most commonly referred to as a superfood, 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," Schulz said.
"There is one funny story though when we had to send samples up to ESR for testing to ensure our plants were under the THC level threshold. We tried to send it via NZ Post, but we were firmly told ' no, it is illegal to send this stuff through the post'. We argued that were sending it to a government scientific testing laboratory, but they still wouldn't allow us, so we went across the road to courier and they immediately said 'yeah, no problem'.
"The application process is not easy." Schulz said.
The directors say they still battle misconceptions about growing hemp, but are slowly gaining acceptance.
"Once we get over the giggle factor, most people are fine with it and can see the vast opportunities," Matthews said.
Two weeks ago the New Zealand Green Party showed interest in what Hemp Connect was doing and asked if they could visit the farm to witness the operation first hand.
The Hemp Connect directors welcomed the visit and were pleasantly surprised to greet high profile Green List MP Chloe Swarbrick and two of her staff onto the farm at Kauangaroa.
Swarbrick, the Greens spokesperson for drug law reform among her many briefs, was suitably impressed.
"So hemp carries a lot of stigma, because it looks like this (marijuana)," Swarbrick said.
"That stigma and associated demonisation has shut down innovation and stymied research and development into one of the most versatile and robust natural materials in the world, because of frankly rather dumb law borne of moral panic. Whether it's a fibre in fabric, a high-protein ingredient in food, smooshed together in bricks to build flame-retardant, mould-resistant housing, offering carbon sequestration or regenerating soil, it's time to get our act together and regulate to see Aotearoa NZ do what we do best: high-quality, value-add products that create jobs in the regions and offer a truckload of opportunity in the export market."
And those last sentiments are just what Hemp Connect aspires to achieve.
"It's a very resilient plant that requires very little water, it weeds itself by producing a canopy and not allowing the weeds essential sunlight to flourish and relishes the moderate Whanganui micro climate," Matthews said.
"Our second crop in the ground now is 10.8ha and we have already sold seed to farmers in Blenheim, Hawkes Bay, Whanganui, Bay Of Plenty and South Taranaki. The industry standard is to produce a tonne per hectare, but we are striving for 1.5 tonne/ha and that's looking likely with our latest efforts. There appears to be farm more seed being produced per plant this season and the seeds are nice and plump," Matthews said.
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