Sunday, March 3, 2024

Game-changer for NZ’s hemp industry

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A project targeting an internationally competitive hemp processing plant is tagged as a game-changer for the New Zealand hemp industry.
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Hemp Connect has researched equipment from all over the world to find ways of getting the most out of every hemp seed.

A project targeting an internationally competitive hemp processing plant is tagged as a game-changer for the New Zealand hemp industry.

Levin-based company Hemp Connect’s pilot project to establish the hemp seed processing plant has been backed by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

MPI is contributing more than $245,000 to the two-year pilot project through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFFF) fund. 

The project ultimately aims to enable locally-grown hemp food products to compete with imported varieties.

Since 2020, Hemp Connect has been working on creative solutions for processing NZ grown hemp more efficiently and reducing production costs.

Hemp Connect managing director Mathew Johnson says one of the keys to reducing costs has been researching how to use the entire seed, as well as the associated waste streams. 

“Our goal with this project is to make hemp food production in NZ a viable and internationally competitive option,” Johnson said.

He says traditionally, the cost of importing hemp food has been significantly cheaper than producing it locally.

By increasing the scale of production, new product developments such as husk by-products, hemp sprouts and animal feed will become more economically viable.

Ultimately hemp will become a NZ export success and Hemp Connect plans to be there when it does.

Hemp is the world’s finest superfood. NZ has the finest land.

“Hemp Connect’s vision is to leverage these simple truths to encourage a happier, healthier, sustainable future for NZ,” he said.

“We’ve been working tirelessly to modify our existing equipment and have researched equipment from all over the world to find ways of getting the most out of every hemp seed.”

Johnson says Kiwis are incredible thinkers when it comes to innovation, particularly in the food and beverage industry.

Established in 2017, Hemp Connect had the ambition of bringing change to some of the systemic issues facing NZ, first and foremost the health of its people and the planet. 

“We have loved working with so many people, including our new staff, engineers, electricians and pneumatic specialists, to apply our Number 8 Wire and problem-solving skills to an industry that has been around for centuries, but without the NZ touch,” he said.  

“We’re delighted to be partnering with MPI to prove our concept at a larger-scale and look forward to working hard over the next two years to make this a reality.” 

MPI director of investment programmes Steve Penno says the project fits with MPI’s Fit for a Better World – Accelerating our Economic Potential roadmap, which includes strengthening the environmental credentials of NZ’s food and fibre products and driving further growth in the value of NZ products. 

“Hemp doesn’t need chemicals and is drought-tolerant, so it has environmental benefits,” Penno said.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this project will be enabling Hemp Connect to develop products that have never been produced domestically or internationally,” Penno said.

Hemp Connect says hemp provides a great option for farmers searching for alternative solutions to ensure the long-term economic sustainability of their farms Hemp requires less water, has soil remediation properties and removes four times more Co2 than pine.

It has more than 25,000 recognised uses, including alternative plastics, construction and almost anything made from trees.

Growing hemp reduces water and soil pollution, limits soil erosion and helps restore soil health.

“As leading hemp suppliers in NZ, we are more aware than most of the confusion that can sometimes exist about hemp, what it is, and what it isn’t,” Johnson said.

“Hemp growers and suppliers in NZ like us at Hemp Connect supply industrial hemp. It comes from cannabis sativa plants.

“Yep, that’s the same species that marijuana comes from, however, the industrial hemp we supply is about as different from marijuana as grape juice is from wine.”

Another good example is the fungi family, or mushrooms, some are healthy and nutritious, while others have psychoactive properties.

Within the species cannabis sativa, as with fungi, have significantly different cultivars.

Cannabis grown for marijuana contains THC, whereas industrial hemp doesn’t.

THC is the chemical component of cannabis or marijuana that gets you high and the industrial hemp grown for food and fibre doesn’t.

The low-THC cultivar hemp crops grown by Hemp Connect and other hemp suppliers in NZ have a THC content that is less than 0.35%.

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