Thursday, December 7, 2023

Establishment key to successful hemp crop

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Blair Drysdale is into his third season of growing hemp on his Southland farm and is still fine-tuning how it fits into his crop rotations. He grows 10ha of hemp on his 320-hectare farm, harvesting the seeds which are then pressed into oil and sold online.
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Blair Drysdale | September 23, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

“It’s a fully integrated system which was the plan from the outset. We spent 15 years looking to do something from paddock to consumer and it was about finding the right plant that fitted in with our infrastructure,” he said.

It also had to be healthy and beneficial to people and hemp ticked those boxes.

The popularity of the oil surprised him with the bottled product selling out.

He also grows wheat, barley and oats in rotation, along with oil seed rape and tulips. He also farms store lambs and hoggets, and grazes dairy heifers.

He learned partly by trial and error but also by researching the crop online and asking knowledgeable people.

“We didn’t want to go too big too quickly. It’s about finding our feet with the plant itself with the harvesting, drying and processing,” he said.

“There’s a few steps we need to put in place before we go mad on it.”

His advice for people thinking of growing the crop was the same – do the research first and seek advice from others.

“The internet was our friend and we became members of the New Zealand Hemp Industry Association – there’s a great information base there, and just get in touch with people who have done it,” he said.

This year, he will plant it after spring-sown wheat, which was harvested in autumn and will disc drill the crop in late November.

“The biggest problem to date has been establishing the crop and keeping on top of the weeds without using chemistry.”

In the past he used a tine drill but is switching to a disc drill this season in the hope of solving that issue.

He says this should reduce the soil disturbance and, therefore, reduce the weeds.

He has brought back his sowing date from December 10 last season to late November. While sowing in December allowed him to manipulate the plant height, it has come at the cost of yield.

He hopes this will lead to better establishment and yield with this season’s crop.

Harvesting usually takes place around April 5.

“This year, the aim is to hit 1-1.2 tonnes/ha (seed). I’m pretty confident if it’s a reasonable season of hitting it with what we have learned in the past,” he said.

The hemp fibre is sold to a local farmer, who uses it as bedding in the calf shed.

“They came back this year and got more because the calf rearers loved it because it is so dry.”

He also suspects the hemp would do well being sown with the drill behind older pasture because the dead pasture may aid weed suppression.

He’s also sown it behind whole crop oats, which worked well, and last season he sowed it behind barley stubble.

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