Hemp touted as crop for Southland

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 15/07/2014

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Farmers growing a variety of cannabis could take Southland's economy to new highs.

Nathan Surendran, in a submission, to Venture Southland's draft business plan, says hemp cultivation has huge economic potential.

Speaking yesterday after the Venture hearing, he said that as well as being fast-growing, hemp would make use of the "lost land" around Southland rivers, where animals could not graze.

"[It is] a resource, something that grows very well in marginal areas."

Crops known as hemp are varieties of cannabis sativa which have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of below 0.35 per cent.

The plants could be used as a fibre and to make clothing, to generate electricity and even as a food source, Surendran said.

"Hemp was traditionally known as the most useful plant . . . just because it's been demonised because of marijuana doesn't mean that it's lost that usefulness."

Other fast-growing crops such as bamboo and Miscanthus, commonly known as elephant grass, could also be considered as alternatives to diversify farming in Southland, he said.

Venture Southland enterprise and strategic projects group manager Steve Canny said it had researched the possibility of cultivating hemp in the region, along with many other high-value crops.

Hemp and opium were some of the "unusual" crops the research had shown could be successfully grown in parts of Southland, he said. Further research would be required to determine whether hemp cultivation could be commercially viable in the region.

Crop diversification would ensure the Southland economy remained resilient into the future, Canny said.

However, Federated Farmers Southland acting president Allan Baird said hemp cultivation could have a negative impact on Southland's reputation in the agricultural industry, because of the crop's association with cannabis.

Baird also believed most farmers "wouldn't go near" hemp, because they would be fearful of the consequences of growing something so closely linked to drugs.

It raised the possibility of "people jumping over the fence, harvesting it for gangs", and farmers did not want to have to police their crops, he said.

To grow hemp as an agricultural crop in New Zealand, farmers need to be licensed with the Ministry of Health.

Licences are issued annually, at a cost of $511.

WHAT IS HEMP?

Varieties of cannabis sativa that have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of below 0.35 per cent are classed as industrial hemp.

Hemp varieties are controlled drugs, and it is illegal to advertise hemp for psychoactive purposes or to supply it to unauthorised persons.

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Hemp growers must be licensed.

Source: Ministry of Health

- The Southland Times

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