Hemp growers ready for success

Last updated 12:17 17/07/2013

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Waikato couple Dave and Anne Jordan are prepared for a cropping venture which slots into the new "greenwave" of products in demand around the world.

For the last four years the Jordans have trialled growing industrial hemp and are now building up their seed stocks so they can do large plantings.

Meanwhile they sell hemp oil for skin care and related products at their local farmers' market and can barely keep up with demand.

Pivitol to their future success is a harvester, and Dave is working with a designer in Ashburton to come up with one that will remove the fibre from the plant's stalk. Once it is built the Jordans can get going with a commercial crop, planting seed - all going well - for a harvest in March of around 100ha.

Industrial hemp has a multitude of uses, and every part of the plant is used. Jordan said there would be no shortage of demand for the products.

Canada, France and China produce significant quantities and a few New Zealanders have trialled it.

He has been in talks with Australian partners who have signed agreements and are awaiting movement from a Chinese company, which wants bulk industrial hemp.

Textiles New Zealand, which is in the throes of an industry makeover, supports the Jordans' ideas for a wool hemp fibre blend and talks are ongoing in this regard.

Wool has already been successfully blended with recycled jute coffee sacks to create WoJo fabric, which has won international awards. Wellington-based WoJo designers The Formary have subsequently developed, and are selling into US markets, fabric made from a blend of wool and waste rice straw from China.

If the wool hemp fibre blend succeeds along similar lines, the Jordans see potential for fabrics for interiors and upholstery, among other uses.

"Our goal is to have the New Zealand textile industry uptake the first of our fibre, all going well. If it does not, it would be a crying shame to have to sell to the Chinese market to gain ground. So we will work very hard with the New Zealand industry to see where we get."

While hemp oil is high in Omegas 3, 6 and 9, the New Zealand government has yet to approve it for human consumption.

A hemp crop needs little to no pesticides and no herbicide control, and it produces oxygen.

Under favourable growing conditions the Jordans expect one tonne of seed, three tonnes of fibre band and six tonnes of hurd (leaf fibre) per hectare. Dave believed they would optimise yields once they got going.

Hemp products are incorporated into eco-construction, cosmetics, fuel, mulch and for livestock bedding.

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It can be used in a process called Phytoremediation where it is grown in polluted soils to remove radioactive elements, clean up pesticides, solvents, crude oils and toxins leaching from landfills.

In the spring of 1999, it was grown around Chernobyl - the site of the world's largest nuclear disaster - to remove radioactive elements and heavy metals from soil and water in the contaminated areas.

Dave pondered its use on New Zealand farms which have fracking waste on them.

Planters around the world cut their hemp crops and leave them on the ground before the hemp goes through a harvester, a process Dave believed almost destroys it. The Jordans plan to harvest theirs green to maximise its fresh qualities.

Last year the Jordans and some other growers harvested around 90 ha of industrial hemp.

- Straight Furrow

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