Promoting the Economic, Environmental, Health and Social Benefits of a NZ Hemp Industry

Background & History





All the available literature leads the writer to believe that hemp can and should be described to a large extent as the fibre which supported the cradle of civilisation.

A stone age village unearthed on the island of Taiwan over 10,000 years old, contains the earliest evidence of hemp to date.

Although the Chinese were probably the first to domesticate and use hemp extensively, the most noted euphoric users were the Hindu’s and Scythians.

The Atharva-Veda (1400 BC) refers to its usage. The Scythians, who roamed the Asian continent and ruled ancient Russia during the days of the Greeks, used hemp for utilitarian and euphoric purposes. They were among the finest craftspeople, artists and warriors the world has ever known. (Jack Frazier/The Great American Hemp Industry)

China appears to have the longest continuous history of hemp cultivation (over 6000 years), interestingly they are also attributed with having invented paper. France has cultivated hemp for at least 700 years through to the present day, Spain and Chile similarly. Russia was a major grower/supplier for hundreds of years.



It is difficult if not impossible to ascertain when hemp first appeared in New Zealand, but without doubt it was part of Able Tasman’s ship’s inventory. It is unclear if any seeds were traded or left with the Natives of New Zealand at the time, but is likely though unconfirmed.

Captain James Cook certainly had hempseed on board Endeavour but no records exist concerning whether it was planted or traded anywhere in New Zealand. In the late 1770’s Sir Joseph Banks and Admiral Sir George Young were enamored with the concept of creating colonies in the southern islands (Australia & New Zealand) on the basis of reducing the British Empires dependence on Russian hemp.

Britain’s sea power was based on adequate supplies of both timber and hemp. To outfit a naval vessel of the day required 80 tons of hemp per ship. This equates to approximately 350 acres of hemp to produce a complete ship’s outfitting, refits of all hempen components took place every 3 to 4 years.

The French were also dependent on Russian hemp and in 1785 sent Le Prouse on an expedition with instructions to bring back samples of New Zealand hemp flax Phormium tenax, which was prized by the British.

1778 – 1820’s saw much interest and instructions from Britain including the King to the colonies to supply Britain with both New Zealand hemp; phormium tenax, and traditional hemp Cannabis sativa L.

Those wishing to suppress uncomfortable truths regarding hemp have managed to date to suppress the most uncomfortable truth of all, that is:

New Zealand and Australian colonies began, at least in part and intent as hemp colonies! In 1892 hempseed imported to the colonies was distributed to over 600 farmers in Australia and to a lesser extent, New Zealand. For reasons that remain unclear hemp did not become a major part of the colonies’ development, however some of the evidence remains. Such as the 1960’s Australian Hunter Valley discoveries of huge wild tracts of Cannabis sativa L (hemp).

There were abortive attempts to start a hemp colony on Norfolk Island during most of the 1800’s.

Mother Aubert grew hemp at Jerusalem (near Wanganui) as part of her pharmacopoeia from 1883 on. Anecdotal reports suggest that industrial hemp was grown in most parts of New Zealand, including Ruapuke Island in Foveaux Strait. (Below 45 south with what could be described as an inhospitable climate)

Until the introduction of the DANGEROUS DRUGS AND POISONS REGULATIONS 1927 chemists could sell Indian Hemp to anyone in New Zealand. Gazetted in 1928 Indian hemp was included simply to control the importation for pharmacopoeia, no other controls or taxes were imposed at this time.

In 1941 the Dept. of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) grew 1 hectare of Hungarian hemp in the central North Island.  Shortly thereafter Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries (MAF) trialed 4 hectares near Foxton and reported. “It grew magnificently and fibre yield was excellent”. (Today MAF are unable or unwilling to provide any information regarding these trials, the trials were at the urgings of the United States government.)

Trials stopped abruptly in 1948 when they were told that it was Indian Hemp from which hashish was made.

The law was changed after the acquittal of an Aro Street truck driver on cannabis possession charges in 1960 when the magistrate discovered there was nothing in the 1927 Dangerous Drugs and Poisons Regulations that made it an offence to possess or cultivate drugs with the exception of opium. Within several months an Order in Council changed that, making it illegal to possess or cultivate cannabis. It also outlawed hempseed in bird-feed and veterinary supplies.

This became part of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1961, now Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Effectively cannabis possession and / or cultivation was not legally outlawed until 1961. (Coincidentally the same year the USA pushed the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 through.)



A number of hemp businesses began to appear during the early to mid 90’s possibly the most notable being the HEMP TRADING COMPANY, based in Auckland, focusing in the main on textiles, and the HEMPORIUM in the capital Wellington, a hemp products retail outlet. Bryan Slight one of the few visionaries was attempting to excite people and businesses around Tauranga and did inspire a few to produce shampoos, clothes and to combine wool and hemp products such as socks and jerseys by HEMPNITZ. By 1997 there were at least 15 ‘purist’ Hemp companies registered in New Zealand and a large number of businesses having some Hemp products available as part of their inventory, albeit often in a sporadic manner which possibly reflects the ability of overseas manufacturers and suppliers to meet demand.

There was a significant increase in rural New Zealand interest in industrial hemp during 1996 and 1997, culminating in late 1997 with the first small business development grant to a Motueka group to investigate the job opportunity and economic viability of industrial hemp for the region.

Since 1997 the market has expanded to include food, textiles, oil  and construction products.

Such as Midlands and Hemptec, supplying fabric sine 2002, very knowledgeable and professional.



The Vavilov Research Institute is in Russia, near St Petersburg and established in 1902.

This is the world’s most complete source of Cannabis sativa L (industrial hemp) genetics, having in excess of 500 specific germ plasms sourced from over 25 countries. (The USA destroyed theirs in the 1950’s). Due to the recent upheavals in Russia and subsequent budget cuts this invaluable genetic material was at risk until the International Hemp Association decided to financially support the continued accessions which are necessary every 4-5 years to ensure the seed viability. To date they have managed to do this with over 300 genetic seed stocks and even reintroduced a cultivar to Italy, its native homeland.



Milestone Dates  1994-2013


•             September 1990 NZHIA formation.

•             1994       National Government place Moratorium on the issuing of Licences to grow Industrial Hemp.

•             September 1997  Release of COMMERCIAL CULTIVATION OF CANNABIS SATIVA FOR PRODUCTION OF INDUSTRIAL HEMP, LEGISLATIVE AND SECURITY ASPECTS OF RECENT AUSTRALIAN TRIALS, Dr G R Boyd, Chief Advisor, Regulation and Safety, Ministry of Health, New Zealand September 1997

•             September 1997 NZHIAI formally incorporated.

•             October 1997  The Motueka report is published. (Funded by CEG. Community Employment Group)

•             1998 NZHIA publish “The 5 Minute Guide to Industrial Hemp in New Zealand.”

•             November 1999 “Industrial Hemp and its Potential for New Zealand” by Charles N Merfield. Lincoln University, report published.

•             20th June 2000. The moratorium imposed on the issuing of licences to grow industrial hemp by the National government in 1994 was lifted on the 20th June 2000.

•             21st August, 2000 NZHIA members met with the Government for the first time, as part of the  “Inter-Agency Meeting on Cultivation of Industrial Hemp.” Sub committee.

•             7th December 2000. In essence the Sub Committee’s recommendations are: “that the emphasis should change to one whereby any organization that can meet the licencing, security and other requirements, including funding the trials, should be allowed to make submissions and become licensed to trial industrial hemp.

•             Friday 27th. April 2001 Minister of Health announces Ministry Of Health accepting applications to be Licensed to grow Industrial Hemp.

•             15th  September 2001 first 20kg of Hungarian seedstock arrives in New Zealand.

•             3rd Sept 01. 11 Licences to grow IH issued by Medsafe, and 1 licence to deal

•             23rd Sept 2001 first seedstock cleared by customs.

•             13th October 2001. 1pm. Axl McIntosh planted first legal hempseeds in decades in NZ North Island soil.

•             October – November 2001, 9 crops planted between latitudes 40 and 44.5 degrees South

•             January 26th –February 7th 2002. NZHIA crop tour.

•             February March 2002. First Industrial Hemp thc testing takes place.

•             March April 2002. All crops are harvested.

•             April 20th 2002. NZHIA AGM.

•             October 2002. ECIHemp project unofficially commences.

•             September 2002. Dr M A Nichols appointed NZHIA Research Team Leader.

•             December 2002. Funding for ECIHEMP project.

•             December 2002. ECIHemp assists plantings in 11 locations nationwide including Massey University.

•             December 2002. Steve Cutler commences four sites, 6 cultivar,3 densities replicated trials in South Island.NZ on behalf of David Musgrave.

•             April 2003. Minister of Health extends Industrial Hemp trials for a further 12 months.

•             October 2003. HempSEED The Whole Story –work in progress Steve Cutler.

•             December 2003. Forest Research shows interest in hemp fiber.

•             December 2003. Hemp Regulatory Framework Consultation with industry.

•             March 2004. First NZ Generic Cultivar announced – Aotearoa 1.

•             April 2004 Hemp production in Aotearoa published in Journal of the International Hemp Association. (Peer reviewed.)

•             May 2004. Government extends legislation/consultation time frame to 1st January 2005 and extends trials until that date.

•             July 2004. Aotearoa Industrial Hemp Development Trust formed.

•             2005 trial end

•             The Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 are enacted to issue licences for the Legal cultivation of industrial hemp

•             Midland seeds open day

•             Midland seeds keep the oil industry going

•             Oct 2012 D8 decorticator arrives the hemp farm in the Waikato, growing dual crop and decorticationg with a revolutionary new type of on farm decoritaction prototype


Number of licences (G – General and R – Research and Breeding

2006       Canterbury 3G, Nelson 1G, Waikato 1G &1R, Southland 1G and 1R

2007       Canterbury 4G & 2R, Nelson 1G, Rotorua 1G&1R, Southland 1G and 1R

2008       Canterbury 5G & 4R, Nelson 1G, Southland 1G and 1R

2009       Canterbury 4G, Nelson 1G, Hawke’s Bay 1G, Rotorua 1G&1R, Southland 1R

2010       Canterbury 4G, Nelson 1G, Hawke’s Bay 1G, Rotorua 1G&1R, Southland 2G

2011       Canterbury 1G, Nelson 1G, Hawke’s Bay 1G, Rotorua 1G&1R, Southland 2G&1R, Waikato 1G

2012       Canterbury 8G&2R, Nelson 2G, Hawke’s Bay 2G, Rotorua 1G&1R, Southland 3G&2R, Waikato 4G, Taranaki 3G

Hemp licence holders, by year

Hectares, variety, ph in soil, yield, environmental conditions, weather, birds, pests etc, harvest equipment, costs and storage treamtnets, sold it? For?





Hemp is an annual herbaceous plant of the species Cannabis sativa, meaning “useful hemp.” It is a high yield commercial fibre crop which flourishes in areas with temperate climates, such as Canada. Hemp grows successfully at a density of at least 150 plants per square meter, and reaches a height of two to five meters in a three month growing season.  Every part of the plant can be used commercially.  The stalk of the hemp plant is harvested for its fibres. The fibre length and the content of cellulose and lignin are important quality parameters for raw material used in the cordage, textile, paper and fibreboard industries.



Hemp has traditionally been grown for its valuable and versatile high quality (primary bast) fibres. The production of these fibres has traditionally been a very labour intensive process.  After harvesting, the hemp stalks are soaked with water to initiate a process of retting (the decompositional separation of the bark-like bast fibres from the inner woody core, the hurd). After the retting process, the plants are dried and then the fibre must be separated from the hurds, shaken out, and cleaned. Recently, alternative fibre separation processes have been developed, using technologies such as ultrasound, enzymes and steam explosion, which are much less labour intensive.  Once separated, the bast fibres are ready for spinning and weaving into textiles, or for pulping into high quality pulp. Because of their high tensile strength, bast fibres are ideal for such specialised paper products as: tea bags, industrial filters, currency paper, or cigarette paper.



1. Primary bast fibres which are long and low in lignin. These fibres are the most valuable part of the stalk, and are generally considered to be among the strongest natural fibres known to mankind.

2. Secondary bast fibres which are medium length and higher in lignin are less valuable and become more prevalent when the hemp plants are grown less densely (therefore less competition for light), and thus grow shorter, fatter stalks.



The hurds are the short fibred inner woody core of the hemp plant which comprises 70-80% of the stalk. They are composed of libriform fibres which are short and high in lignin.

The hurds are essentially the by-product of the process of extracting bast fibre from the hemp stalks, and were traditionally considered waste.

Though the fibres are shorter, the lignin content of hurds is similar to wood, so there are opportunities for using the hurds for tissue or newsprint pulp.

Hurds can also be used to produce a wide range of products including rayon, biomass fuel, cellophane, food additives, and industrial fabrication materials.

The most exciting use is in construction where the hurds are mixed with lime to form a building which can be moulded into interior and exterior walls.



Hemp seeds are also a potentially valuable commodity. The seeds have exceptional nutritional value.

They are second only to Soya beans as a source of complete vegetable protein and hemp seeds contain all 8 essential amino acids in the correct proportions humans require. Hemp seeds also contain 30-35% oil by weight.

Hemp seed oil is approximately 80% polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Furthermore, the proportion of these oils in hemp seeds most closely match the ratios which have been determined to be most beneficial to human nutrition.

However, although the oil is very healthy, this high percentage of polyunsaturated fats also makes hemp seed oil somewhat unstable and so subject to fairly rapid rancidity unless stored and treated properly.

Hemp seed oil can be extracted or expressed and used in cooking, or industrial uses such as paints, varnishes, detergents, cosmetics, and lubrication. The left over seed casings are a rich source of protein which can be ground into flour.



In both its cultivation and uses, hemp is considered an exceptionally environmentally friendly crop. Hemp requires little or no pesticides as it is naturally pest resistant. Hemp is also a natural herbicide known for its ability to smother weeds when grown at a density suitable for producing high quality  bast fibre. Hemp also has a lower net nutrient requirements than other common farm crops, since it can return 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil when dried in the field.

However, prior to the nutrient recycling, hemp extracts more nutrients per hectare than grain crops due to its fast biomass production. In rotation with other crops, its deep root system is also very beneficial as it is effective in preventing erosion, cleaning the ground, providing a disease break, and helping the soil structure by aerating the soil for future crops

Hemp is also a particularly high yield fibre crop. In fact, an acre of hemp produces more biomass than most other crops. As a result hemp can be used effectively in many applications as an alternative to wood or fossil fuels. For example, hemp can be used as a renewable, low polluting source of biomass fuel, or hemp pulp could easily replace wood pulp in paper making.




There are two potentially viable approaches to growing hemp commercially: growing hemp for fibre or for seed. If hemp is grown for fibre, it is sown very densely (a seed rate of 55-70 kg/ha is standard, though for very high quality textile fibre a much higher seed rate can be used). Since hemp grows so quickly, at this density hemp can effectively out compete weeds, and so weed control measures (herbicides) are not needed. If hemp is grown for seed, it is grown much less densely (typically 10 -15kg/ha) and is not as effective at suppressing weeds, so herbicides will probably be required. Hemp seed may be drilled or broadcast, though drilling is recommended for uniformity. A standard grain drill or modified alfalfa seeder can be used for sowing.

Pesticides are generally considered unnecessary in the cultivation of hemp.  Another positive aspect of the crop is that once planted, no further husbandry is required until harvest, thereby minimising labour costs and energy consumption.