Thu, Sep 22, 2022 6:00 AM

The next billion dollar industry



By Andrew Ritchie

“Soil, sun and water prevail.”

Chief Executive of The Marlborough Research Centre Gerald Hope traced the history of land use in Marlborough when he introduced the recent industrial hemp roadshow.

He emphasised that those three essential elements have shaped the agricultural economy of the region.

They ranged from livestock, to fruit, seed growing, garlic and finally the grape industry. The prediction is that the hemp growing industry could be the next crop to drive the local economy.

Richard Barge has been associated with the industrial hemp industry for 25 years. The crop has been used for well over 150 years with the hemp plant being capable of producing up to 25 usable products. In the days of sailing ships, it was used in canvas sails, ropes and clothing.

Bags of seed were carried on board in case of being marooned when they could be planted, growing a crop to remanufacture sails, produce food and clothing.

Since the early 1900s tinctures and oils have been used as health products. In the 1930s Henry Ford produced a car made from composite materials utilising constituents of the hemp plant.

Richard Barge demonstrates some of the insulation material composed from the hemp plant. Photo: Andrew Ritchie.

In the late 1930s hemp was demonised because of its association with marijuana, but the need for webbing fibre and cordage during the war saw a resurgence in its use when, in the US, farmers were encouraged to grow an acre each to help the war effort.

Since 2006 industrial hemp has been used as an agricultural crop; it has been utilised in the motorcar industry where the need for the ability to recycle at the end of life has been a requirement.

Brian Kindilien from the Puro company, established in 2018 to produce medicinal cannabis, spoke about the growing of 10 hectares of the hemp crop near Kekerengu.

In 2021 they produced 2.8 tonnes of organic product and 5 tonnes in 2022. He emphasised that they are a specialist grower with the sole focus being on growing the crop and on genetics.

The company was largely crowd funded but has recently secured a grant to advance the industry through MPI.

Helius Therapeutics are marketing the organic medicinal cannabis produced by Puro. The strict licencing procedure keeps society safe.

The challenge for the company is to obtain a consistency of product for the oils tinctures and pills manufactured but produced from an outdoor crop. The crop is harvested in April which allows for the use of RSE workers to harvest the flowers after the grape vintage.

Strict standards of cleaning of the drying and packing plant must be maintained as it is a medical product.

Kirsty Harkness is the first licenced hemp vineyard grower in the country. She realised in 2009 the importance of cover crops in the vineyard for soil and vine health but wondered if hemp could also produce additional revenue.

She researched hemp cropping in Manitoba in Canada looking for a variety that was not too tall that it might shade the grapes.

Three years of research have since taken place in the vineyard showing nothing but positive effects. The crop is sown in November and harvested in March.

Hemp has a long tap root so does not compete with the vines, it has been shown to even grow in the compacted tyre tracks and the plant pops back up when run over. The flowers attract bees and there has been an increase in beneficial soil bacterial and fungal activity as well as an increase in the worm population. Once the seed heads are harvested plant matter is mulched into the vineyard.

The berry yield and wine quality is unaffected by the hemp crop. The oils from the seeds are blended into skincare products such as day and night creams marketed under the Hark and Zander brand.

Richard Barge says that the industry has the potential to grow into a billion-dollar enterprise.

“The whole plant can be utilised it is a bio accumulator so can lift heavy metals form the soil, the seed produces amino acids, essential oils and fatty acids. Meal can be produced from the husks and fibre sourced from the stems can be used for insulation and fibre boards that are strong and hardwearing.”

Medicines fibre and food grown from the soil sun and water that prevails.

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