6 Dec 2019

From dairy farming to hemp cultivation

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 6 December 2019

Reefton dairy farmers Aaron Silcock and Sarah Gibson believe the future lies in hemp.

Aaron is a fourth-generation dairy farmer at Larry's Creek but says he'd like to eventually put his herd into retirement on the 307-hectare farm and focus on growing industrial hemp.

Hemp is a strain of the Cannabis Sativa plant species that is grown specifically for industrial use. It's one of the fastest-growing plants and one of the first to be spun into usable fibre 10,000 years ago.

This season, Aaron and Sarah have planted three hectares with a cultivar called Aotearoa One. It's been developed by South Otago hemp pioneer Mac Macintosh. They also have a trial plot where they evaluate other cultivars.

"We're going to plant some of Mac's Monopurp variety … that purple colour is quite a good antioxidant so it could be a really good cultivar to get up and running, so we'll see what plants we can get out of here and keep the seeds from them," Aaron says.

A Ministry of Health licence is required to grow the versatile fibre and there's been an increase in applications now the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 have been updated to allow low-THC hemp seeds to be grown, manufactured and sold as food products.

"It costs $511 for the general licence, that's the paperwork side of the costs, and then you have to do a THC test to ensure that the cultivar is below 0.35 percent THC," Sarah says.

The hard-working farmers have developed their own brand of hemp skin products and hemp seed food. It's called Larry's Gold after the creek at the bottom of the farm.

Sarah’s encouraged by all the interest they’re getting but because it's quite a new business the pair are having to do all the work.

"All the social media stuff's done by us, all the ordering and making is done by us and then you throw in a 16-month old that wants your love, time and attention and then there's the farm as well to run, so we are very, very busy!"