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Hemp Trial Under Spotlight

September 3, 2001

The move to legalise hemp crop trialling over the next two years in New Zealand needs to be well-controlled to ensure good profits for all people participating, including growers, merchants and research/breeders.

New Zealand Plant Breeding Ltd, which will be conducting one of the trials in conjunction with Midlands Seed Ltd, will be supplying seed to more than half of the 11 licenses issued from 14 applications.

Adrian Russell, managing director of NZPBL, said it is crucial the initial trial work is carried out with scientific integrity and amid commercial reality.

"The introduction of any new species into New Zealand's cropping systems requires a thorough and well thought-out approach. Attempts to fast track the production of hemp have failed miserably elsewhere in the world and attempts to do the same in New Zealand are likely to meet a similar fate," Mr Russell said.

'It's also important to remember that this is only a trial period and the crop has not yet been commercialised. It still needs to be established whether the crop can be grown economically compared to other options farmers have and a significant infrastructure also needs to be set up to process both fibre or seed."

He said NZPBL had worked hard to obtain sources of seed types (European, Canadian and Australian varieties) suitable for New Zealand's tepid climate.

NZPBL is initiating a fibre research programme based on hemp and flax. Fibres from both species are used internationally in a wide variety of high value industrial and textile products.

Mr Russell: "The initial aims of this programme are to determine the economic viability of the crop in New Zealand, identify the key constraints to production, and identify suitable cultivars and processing opportunities for New Zealand."

With this in mind, NZPBL is seeking a summer scholar in conjunction with Lincoln University to start field trials using a range of high performing hemp varieties.

NZPBL shareholders include Alan Annett Ltd, Peter Cates Ltd and Midlands Seed Ltd.

Hemp's uses are wide and varied. It can be used in food products such as ice creams, cheeses and edible oils. The stalk itself can be transformed into fibre products including sanitised material, sheets and towels, animal bedding, and moulded plastic. Its fibre is four times stronger than fibreglass.

Hemp use is increasingly common overseas. For instance, the European-made Mercedes car has a high percentage of hemp while French bank notes are currently printed on hemp paper.

Midlands Seed Director, Duncan Storrier, said "while it is very exciting to think of the wide and potential uses for Hemp, a great deal of infrastructure and investment would be required to establish the necessary processing facilities to see the crop commercialised."


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