Hemp sown to start eco-house business

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2012
tdn hemp stand
ANDY JACKSON
Greg Flavall with a Hempcrete Wall Sample which will be used to build New Zealand's first hemp house.

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History is soon to be made in Taranaki after the first hemp crops have been planted to build New Zealand's first eco-friendly hempcrete house.

Just under half a hectare has already been planted at Douglas in eastern Taranaki and another 3.7ha were planted at Urenui on Saturday.

Once milled the fast-growing crops will be sufficient to build three hemp homes, builder and entrepreneur Greg Flavall, the co-founder of Hemp Technologies, says.

The first harvest is expected as soon as January and building of New Zealand's first hemp house, near Bell Block, will start by early next year. The New Plymouth District Council had already approved the structural engineering, said Mr Flavall, who was born in Taranaki.

He is a strong advocate for the age-old plant after building some of the first hemp-lime homes in Canada and the United States earlier this century.

"You can call me a hempster," he says.

Mr Flavall has returned from the United States to look into developing hemp-cropping in New Zealand to export to the US, has seen the potential, and is now keen to stay. His aim is to see 1200 acres (485ha) planted in Taranaki.

To make the building product, the internal part of the hemp stem is mixed with a lime-based binder. It continues to harden or petrify over time and lasts hundreds of years.

The result is a cheap, breathable, non-toxic product which is non-combustible, power-saving, soundproof - and has a negative carbon footprint, he says.

"It's a breathable wall yet air doesn't pass through."

One of the oldest crops known to man, hemp was used in the Great Wall of China, Roman viaducts and by Henry Ford in his first car.

Hemp is fast coming in from the cold and much of the Western World is in a comeback phase after many countries banned the plant because of fears it could be used as the drug marijuana.

There was also competition with petrochemical-based products.

The US will still not allow hemp to be grown there but because it does allow its use in buildings, it has to be imported.

Southern France, Canada (where there are 60,000ha in use), Japan and China all have large tracts of land planted in hemp.

The crop has never taken hold in a big way in New Zealand but is starting to spread after agricultural hemp cultivation was legalised about 12 years ago.

Growers must be licensed and the plants, a variety of cannabis sativa, tested to ensure they contain very low levels of the psychoactive property THC.

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Mr Flavall believes the Taranaki cultivation licences are the first issued since 1940.

More information at hemp-technologies.com.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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