Hemp and honey may be key players in the future of Taranaki's horticultural industry.
High-activity manuka honey and industrial hemp have been identified as possible crops that could enable diversification in a region where land use is dominated by dairy farming.
The report, by Lincoln University's Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit, found that although the horticulture industry was not a major player in Taranaki, there was potential for areas to be diversified by planting the "novel product" crops.
The Venture Taranaki-commissioned study acknowledged that Taranaki was traditionally a dairy region, but questioned whether it was wise to keep all of the region's "land-based eggs in one basket".
Because crops like hemp and manuka already had "champions" in Taranaki - people with the passion and resources to evaluate and establish the industry - the study suggested they could be successfully developed in the region.
The "champions" identified in the report were Manuka Research Partnership managing director and regional councillor Neil Walker, and Hemp Technologies co-founder Greg Flavall.
Mr Flavall said the report confirmed what he had known for a long time about industrial hemp.
He said Taranaki now had an rare opportunity to embrace the market and the industry, which boasts more than 25,000 products than can be made from hemp.
"Conditions in Taranaki are perfect for this.
"We could become the hemp capital of Oceania," he said.
While Hemp Technologies was only growing only a few acres of the plant in Taranaki this year, Mr Flavall said this could easily increase to 250 to 300 acres within 12 months.
"By using only 1 per cent of agricultural land in this country we could build all the new homes that we need, every year.
"And every part of the plant can be used. Hemp can make food, fuel, shelter and jobs. It's totally self sustaining," he said.
The Taranaki region is at the forefront of innovative developments using hemp in the construction of houses. A hemp house costs around $1700 per square metre, Mr Flavall said.
While industrial hemp is the same species as marijuana, it has no psychoactive properties, he said.
"You'd have to smoke a joint as big as a telephone pole to even get a headache from what we grow."
Venture Taranaki's Chief Executive Stuart Trundle said diversifying industries was the key to maintaining a strong regional economy.
A move towards hemp would be going "back to the future" in a sense, as the crop was historically grown in Taranaki when the region was first colonised by Europeans, he said.
"A strong and sustainable horticultural sector builds on our region's physical advantages, ensuring we can maximise the value of some of our less productive land."
Mr Walker said manuka could be planted on marginal land such as the East Taranaki hill country areas, could boost income for land owners and was sustainable.
"It's the only crop that you would plant and never take anything off it," he said.
WHAT IS INDUSTRIAL HEMP?
-Has low levels of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
-Can be grown in New Zealand under licence from the Ministry of Health.
-Hemp can be used to make rope, fabric, and building materials. Its oil can be used for cooking and in beauty products.
-American chain Wholefoods Market sells snacks such as hemp seeds, hemp milk, hemp granola bars and hemp tortilla chips.
-Hemp is believed to be one of the first plants cultivated by man.
- Taranaki Daily News