Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hemp could be the crop of the future for Taranaki


It takes only four-months for a hemp plant to reach maturity.
It takes only four-months for a hemp plant to reach maturity.

Hemp could be the crop of the future for Taranaki according to a study at Massey University. 
Results of a one-year study on the benefits of growing industrial hemp in the region were released at a presentation at the TSB Showplace in New Plymouth on December 11.
One aspect of the study focused on whether hemp would be a suitable crop to grow on landfarmed soil, while another study looked at the economic benefits and logistics of growing hemp in Taranaki. 
Hemp crops can yield up to 15 times more biomass than grain per hectare.
Hemp crops can yield up to 15 times more biomass than grain per hectare.
Associate Professor Chris Anderson looked at the heavy metals in landfarmed soil and whether hemp was a possible solution to removing some of those metals. 
"As we probably all know Fonterra won't accept milk from cows that have grazed on previously landfarmed land," he said.
"So it's about finding a use for that land."
Anderson stressed the difference between contaminated and polluted soil, highlighting that contamination was not necessarily always bad. 
"We need to separate science from emotion here," he said. 
Anderson's study showed that hemp absorbed no more metal than rye grass when planted on landfarmed soil, but because it was not a food source it was a good crop choice for farmers wanting to utilise their unused land. 
Senior lecturer in horticulture Dr Huub Kerckhoffs looked at the uses and viability of hemp and its future in the region.
"This is the plant of the future," he said. 
"There is pretty much zero THC in hemp, it is nowhere near the level needed to get you high."
Kerckhoffs study highlighted the versatility of hemp and he said it would grow "virtually anywhere."
"It's the strongest natural fibre in the world," he said.
"Hemp does very well even in dry sandy soil and is resistant to salinity which makes it perfect for Taranaki."
Kerckhoff also said hemp crops had a large biomass and would yield 8-15 tonnes per hectare compared to grain which yielded 1 tonne per hectare.
According to the Ministry of Health there are currently 34 active general hemp licences in New Zealand and 10 active research and breeding licences.
There are no active general hemp licences in the Taranaki region. 
Chief executive of Venture Taranaki Stuart Trundle said Venture Taranaki released a report in 2014 which identified hemp and manuka honey as main opportunities for the region.
"Industrial hemp offers the region the opportunity to diversify it's horticultural sector, which has become dominated by dairy production," he said.
"Greater diversification insulates against price changes, and can offer alternative uses for land."
President of Taranaki Federated Farmers Bronwyn Muir said hemp in Taranaki was only in the concept phase at the moment. 
"We don't have the manufacturing options in Taranaki at the moment," she said.
"That's probably why we have no active licences in the region."
Muir said a few partners would need to buy into the scheme before farmers were likely to buy into it.
"If we have to ship it [harvested hemp crops] to get processed then potentially we are not going to get a lot out of it," she said. 
"There are still a lot of conversations that have to be had with individuals."
A general hemp licence can be obtained from the Ministry of Health website for a fee of $511.11 which allows for the cultivation, processing, possession and supply of low THC cannabis varieties approved by the Director-General of Health.

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