24 Feb 2020

Hemp farm opens gates to the curious to promote 'wonder crop'

2:46 pm on 24 February 2020

Growers of industrial hemp say red tape is stopping industries from making the most of what many regard as a potential wonder crop.

The Brothers Green co-founder Brad Lake speaking on a Culverden hemp farm.

The Brothers Green co-founder Brad Lake speaking on a Culverden hemp farm. Photo: RNZ

Although it lacks the mind-altering power of its close cousin marijuana, hemp can only be grown and sold subject to Ministry of Health restrictions.

Brad Lake, co-founder of Christchurch hemp food company The Brothers Green, helped organise a hemp farm open day in Culverden yesterday, to showcase the farmers and business utilising the crop and help de-mystify how it's grown and used.

About 100 Christchurch residents bussed in to see the crop, which is about a week away from being harvested and will soon be taken down the road to one of the South Island's first hemp processing plants.

Soil consultant Rob Flynn told guests hemp farmers were already benefiting hugely from the versatility and popularity of the crop.

"To me, hemp is just such a universal plant. It's got so many properties and ecologically we've got to get away from the plastic and that's what it sort of provides," he said.

Some of the end products it goes into were on show - from hemp bars and protein powders to shampoos and balms.

"Hempcrete" advocate Antoine Fitzgerald.

"Hempcrete" advocate Antoine Fitzgerald. Photo: RNZ

Builder Antonie Fitzgerald spoke about using 'hempcrete' as a sustainable, durable, fire-resistant alternative to concrete, and creative director of the clothing brand Original Canvas, Eden Sloss, spoke about spinning hemp into breathable clothes.

But Lake said hemp hadn't quite escaped its past of strict prohibition as a member of the cannabis family, and that makes life more difficult for growers and retailers.

Under the current rules farmers need annual licences to grow hemp, and must follow strict rules about where it can be grown, security on the farm, recording the progress of the crop, and reporting missing or failed crops.

Lake said it would make more sense for the Ministry of Primary Industries to recognise hemp as an agricultural crop by taking on the licensing process - and ideally, there wouldn't be any restrictions at all.

"If we can go to farmers and say we can buy your leaf and flower, your fibre, your root and your seed, we can offer them a very competitive return and have a huge diversity of income for farmers - without any of the restrictions in place, that really do hinder not just the returns to farmers but also the output of the plant."

Guests at the event said they were optimistic that hemp is slowly beginning to shed its hippy stereotype, and prove its worth in agriculture and other industries.

Liam O'Brien (centre) was among those who visited a Culverden hemp farm in the weekend to learn more about the crop.

Liam O'Brien (centre) was among those who visited a Culverden hemp farm in the weekend to learn more about the crop. Photo: RNZ

Student Liam O'Brien said he was very interested the opportunities hemp could deliver in his field of study - sustainability and landscape architecture.

"At 24 years of age, I believe hemp has a really big place in New Zealand. Through agriculture, tourism, through everything... it really ticks all the boxes," he said.

Lake said he was thrilled so many people took the opportunity to learn more about hemp, by boarding the bus to Culverden.

He hoped more people would continue to open up to the idea of just how versatile the plant is.

Hemp crops being grown at Culverden, Canterbury. 2020.

The Culverden hemp crops visitors saw. Photo: RNZ

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