Cultivating change: NZ's arable farmers explore hemp's potential, eyes set on greener future

Cultivating change: NZ's arable farmers explore hemp's potential, eyes set on greener future

As the global agricultural landscape continues to evolve, farmers worldwide are exploring alternative crops to diversify their portfolios, optimise profitability, and adapt to changing environmental conditions. In New Zealand, the conversation around alternative crops has led to an intriguing dialogue centred on the cultivation of hemp. 

Hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species primarily grown for industrial use, has been thrust into the limelight in recent years. Known for its myriad of uses ranging from fibre production to health and wellness applications, hemp is emerging as a potentially lucrative crop for arable farmers. 

Chair of the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) Steven Bierema told REX host Dominic George that the country might have jumped on the hemp bandwagon a bit too quickly. 

"We started growing more hemp than what the market could absorb," Bierema said. 

This over-supply scenario has led to a period of market adjustment, but Bierema is optimistic about hemp's future. Despite the initial hiccups, Bierema sees significant potential in the hemp industry, particularly in the fibre sector. 

"The fibre has huge potential. We're in a transition of changing from oil-based materials, so therefore, hemp fibre can be an incredible, positive part of that solution."

He also touched on the health and cosmetic industries' growing interest in hemp. While acknowledging the industry's potential, Bierema emphasised that the onus lies on the processors to adapt to this new raw material.

"We're not in a position to say, 'Okay, now you should do this.' It's the processors that need to feel, 'Yeah, it suits our business.'" 

Bierema also introduced the audience to Cultivate Ventures, an investment fund that aims to keep the profits from arable farming, including hemp cultivation, within the industry. 

"We hope to get our arable growers to invest along with us together in new technologies, new industries, so if they thrive, the benefit stays in New Zealand." 

While hemp's potential in New Zealand's arable farming sector is clear, the journey to its full-scale commercial cultivation is still underway. 

Listen to the full chat between Steven Bierema and Dominic George above.

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