31 October 2003 / By TIM CRONSHAW
A champion for the cause of hemp growing has put the feelers out to Canterbury farmers for 20,000ha of land to cultivate the wonder plant.
Christchurch's Blair Anderson has received offers of the free use of 45ha for researching biomass yields of the low-THC variety of cannabis sativa since approaching North Canterbury Federated Farmers last month.
Farmers at the group's meeting were surprised at the sheer amount of land required by potential hemp growers.
Mr Anderson said he may have to look again at hemp trials on a smaller scale as seed costs are so high.
He said an 'angel investor' is needed to establish a centre of excellence for hemp development in NZ at a minimum cost of $1 million.
'If we do this well, we can make as much from conferences, design work, and technology advances as we can out of handling the hemp itself. There is just as much money in intellectual property.'
Mr Anderson said the utility crop had the ability to become a major source of biofarming.
Hemp growing is a serious business in the Eastern European bloc, where it is developed into a biofuel. The hydrocarbons in hemp can be processed into a wide range of biomass energy sources, from fuel pellets to liquid fuels and gas.
The future for the plant in NZ could rest in 'hash-phalt', said Mr Anderson, who has acted as a technology consultant for the Christchurch City Council.
The asphalt substitute combines hemp elements with ground river stone.
It could be used in playgrounds and environmentally sensitive areas, and would prevent volatile hydrocarbons from continuing to be emitted from conventional road surfaces, Mr Anderson said.
He sees other return-rich markets for biodiesel derived from hemp seed oil as a boutique marine application, and for clean and green businesses such as vineyards.
Crude oil from the plant could be used as fuel to run turbines for electrical production, Mr Anderson said.
An advantage of the fuel is that it takes extreme heat to be set alight.
Wood sugar from hemp can be developed into a replacement sweetener in products which do not enter the diabetic pathway, and into high-value fibres in aircraft and vehicle components because of its biodegradability and difficulty to burn.
In good soil and climatic conditions, about 15 tonnes of biofuel can be produced per hectare.
Mr Anderson said investors were reluctant to invest in hemp production because of its 'cultural relationship' with cannabis.
Hemp research is under way at Lincoln University and about 20 growers throughout NZ are licensed to grow the crop.
[actually, typical of many journalists who spin up a story, this is not quite an accurate record of the interview.. it was Massey, not Lincoln, although Lincoln does have some historical significance. The presentation to North Canterbury Federated Farmers... hell, I have no idea where he got that from. It misrepresents the hard work I have done up there, What he may have mixed up is that industrial hemp is supported by NZ federated farmers and I did present a case for biofuel diversification to some North Canterbury farmers - journo's phew! ya havata wonder! However.. on balance there is some good bits that he reported, I shouldnt beef, its hard enough to get traction on this as it is, and no one complained, (grin)!]