The growing potential of growing hemp

People involved in this Project
  • Luke Proctor
Lately, farmers in New Zealand have shown a great deal of interest towards hemp, widely recognised as a ‘billion-dollar crop’. AbacusBio consultant Luke Proctor gives a quick rundown.

Not to be confused with its cousin marijuana, which contains high levels of a chemical called THC, hemp is non-psychoactive and smoking bags of it will not get you high!

Until recently, producers were legally only allowed to sell hemp seed oil, most of which are produced in the Canterbury and Hawkes Bay regions.

There is hope for a law change at the end of this year, which allows producers to also sell the co-product hemp seed meal, which makes up 75% of the whole seed.

This opportunity will “open the doors” to the possibility of a whole new industry, with a significant economic boost to farmers, especially those who struggle to make traditional crops profitable or those who might be looking for a good rotational crop as part of a mixed farming system.

Hemp grows fast and yields significant biomass, second only to bamboo. Growing hemp also has a negative carbon footprint.

At $4000 a hectare, returns are above milling wheat ($3600 a hectare), while on par with feed wheat or barley ($4000 a hectare). A bonus is that hemp is a short-duration crop, so it can be used in rotation with other crops or pasture, increasing overall annual returns.

Furthermore, hemp thrives well against competitors, therefore reducing the need for chemical inputs and supporting effective land use.

No wonder it’s considered a ‘billion-dollar’ crop!

However, the hemp fibre market in New Zealand remains under-developed due to a lack of processing facilities. Investment is needed in this area. Currently cultivars that are available in New Zealand are suited to either seed production or fibre production – dual-purpose crops are being trialled here but as yet have been unsuccessful due to issues around harvest.

Scientific research and development is also crucial to fully utilise the whole plant, develop cultivars, and identify growing techniques that suit New Zealand conditions.

For farmers interested in producing hemp, there are still a few hoops to jump through.

Make sure to be licensed and be aware of strict rules around where it can be grown i.e. not on a main road or near residential areas. Also, only approved cultivars that produce less than 0.3% THC can be grown.

As the Ministry of Health is the government body in charge of approving license applications, there is currently a big back-log of applications with up to 200 people on the waiting list.

But with patience, planning, and investment, hemp will be cropping up all over New Zealand!