Pubdate: Thu, 23 Oct 2003
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2003 New Zealand Herald
Author: Simon Collins


Marijuana may be illegal for humans, but cows may soon chew legally on 
hemp, the industrial crop from which the drug is extracted.

Officials have found that regulations permitting temporary trials of 
industrial hemp in the past two years have worked well and could become 
permanent from July next year.

Hemp expert Dr Mike Nichols, a retired horticulture lecturer at Massey 
University, said the move would allow farmers and councils to plant hemp to 
extract excess nitrogen and other organic "nasties" from the soil in 
sensitive areas such as around Lake Taupo.

"There are problems throughout New Zealand in terms of eutrophication of 
the lakes due to dairy runoff," he said.

"I think there is potential for using cannabis down the sides of streams to 
soak up the nutrients and not to waste the nutrients, but to feed them back 
to the cows."

A study by AgResearch scientist Dr Han Eerens in the latest issue of the NZ 
Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science has found that industrial hemp 
appears to be more profitable than the existing hay-silage operation on a 
135ha site northeast of Taupo where the Taupo District Council disposes of 
treated water from its sewerage works.

"The grass is cut and sold as silage to livestock farmers," he said.

"However, sanitary regulations in countries to which New Zealand exports 
its pasture products have forced a rethink of this practice."

He found that hemp would be an ideal alternative crop for the land, because 
it grows fast, extracts chemicals from the soil and could be used for 
non-food products such as insulation.

Dr Nichols said some of the trials showed it was possible to grow up to two 
tonnes of hemp per hectare of land.

"Not very many things grow faster," he said. "I saw some hemp at Lincoln 
last year that was sown on December 1 and by mid-February was four metres 
tall. There's a lot of biomass there."

Nelson-based New Wool Products, which makes building insulation out of wool 
and other natural materials, has experimented with hemp-based insulation 
and is keen to pursue it if growing is allowed on a permanent basis.

Owner Lindsay Newton said hemp and wool insulation could be made with far 
less energy than fibreglass batts, absorbed sound better and absorbed water 
from the air in humid periods, releasing it again when the humidity dropped 
without forming condensation.

"Hemp comes out totally fireproof, much more so than wool. Its acoustic 
properties are higher than wool and their thermal properties are about 
equal," he said.

"But there needs to be a company that is prepared to grow it.

"We'd be happy to back them and be involved, but it's not something that I 
would care to lead the charge on."

Another South Island company, Ashburton-based Oil Seed Extractions, sells 
hemp oil as a health food product because it contains essential fatty acids 
such as omega-3, which is also found in fish.

A senior policy analyst with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Tony 
van der Lem, said an inter-agency committee in Wellington would put a paper 
to the Cabinet before Christmas recommending that the present regime for 
hemp trials should become permanent from July.

He said growing hemp would still need a licence because of the risk of 
growing the plant for drugs, but he hoped to minimise compliance costs.

"There is something unique about the New Zealand environment which produces 
very high quality oil - flax oil, olive oil, avocado oil. Hemp is the same.

"I would think it would be five to 10 years before we really see something 
significant [with hemp]."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens