Red tape and tight restrictions are stopping New Zealand’s modest hemp industry from growing, a Rangitīkei farmer says.
Tom Welch is diversifying his Marton dairy farm by growing industrial hemp, but regulations that prevent his plantation from being visible from the road and used to market products are hurting the industry.
Hemp, like the illegal drug cannabis, derives from the cannabis sativa plant species and contains the psychoactive stimulant tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC.
The Government hasn’t changed regulations since 2006 despite hemp seeds having a THC concentration of less than 1 per cent, compared to nearly 20 per cent in marijuana.
The hemp leaf is prohibited from labels and advertising to not mislead consumers that hemp products have psychoactive properties, Ministry of Health Medsafe general manager Chris James said.
Plantations were also barred from the roadside in a bid to prevent damage and theft to crops by the public. Many people were not able to distinguish hemp crops from cannabis crops, James said.
Industrial production was policed heavily as it could also be used to produce cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that could have medicinal benefits, James said.
But Welch believes the rigid laws and red tape have stifled investment in the industry.
If people were to contaminate his crop with marijuana, the cross-pollination would water down the drug’s THC levels and render it useless, he said.
While he would use the seed for oil and flour, the hemp stalk could be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, clothing, biodegradable plastics, insulation, biofuel and animal feed.
He hoped to press 150 liters of oil and make 100 kilograms of flour from the seeds after the oil had been taken.
When his first crop is harvested in March, he plans to use the stalk as a substitute for cement and stone when laying a new driveway.
The stalk was also environmentally friendly if it wasn’t burnt, because carbon would remain trapped without being released into the atmosphere, Welch said.
“There’s a lot to like about hemp.
“The regulations are a bit ridiculous, I think. It affects who we employ on the farm and how we run the farm in terms of crop rotation.”
At the moment, he farms 300 friesian-cross cows on 150 hectares. There are 4ha of hemp and 2ha of pumpkins.
Welch had to apply for a $500 license from the Ministry of Health, and underwent police and background checks.
The license covered the farm for three years and applied to him specifically.
“You shouldn’t have to get a license. There is very little, if any, THC.”
Despite feeling the industry is frowned upon, Welch hopes to transform his farm so that, within five years, the hemp and pumpkin crops compete with the dairy side.