Location and Cultivars

There is some debate on the best locations for growing industrial hemp, given that the plant is and has been grown throughout the world in all sorts of soil & climatic conditions. A fair assessment would be that Industrial Hemp is global in distribution with regional specific cultivars obviously performing well in their regions of origin.

In the New Zealand context, as an agricultural crop, Hemp is more suited to temperate climates, with reasonable rainfalls (3-4 inches per month). The further from the equator the better as Hemp is light / daylength sensitive. Seeding/flowering needs to be delayed as long as possible for optimum economic returns, unless being grown specifically for seed production. The onset of the reproductive phase, significantly reduces the quality of the fibre produced. Fibre quality is also reduced by heat but is increased by wind, (provided it isn’t too strong). In hot, dry climates, as a rule of thumb, Hemp produces more resin & poorer quality fibre, while in mild and humid climates, less resin is produced, but the fibre is stronger & more durable.

This means unless cultivars are specifically developed for the conditions, potential Hemp growers in Canterbury, Tasman / Motueka & similar climatic areas in New Zealand would be unwise to place too much reliance on the Hemp fibre. They would be wiser in the first instance at least to concentrate on Hemp seed (a much higher value crop anyway) and producing cultivars specifically for their region. This raises another somewhat interesting point. Seed produced in say Canterbury will not necessarily be a good seedstock for Southland due to the soil and climatic differences.

This means that any New Zealand region seeing itself as the seed stock supplier for the rest of the country would be wise indeed to revisit this prognosis and review it very critically. We are not saying that this is not a possibility, we are simply stating that all available evidence shows that best economic returns are generated from acclimatised regional specific cultivars. Alternatively, whole coarse fibre could be the desired end use as Australian Hemp Resource and Manufacture (AHRM) are promoting in Australia, where the quality of the fibres such as is required for clothing, fabric, etc, is not as critical.

The Cultivar Question

Hemp is even grown in mountainous regions of Morocco as an agricultural crop, so although hemp will grow in a wide variety of locations, the real question is, will it produce economically viable, usable & uniform raw materials?

The biodiversity question, as it relates to Industrial Hemp seedstock, is further compounded by western bureaucracies insisting on no more than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient of Marijuana, content to be present in the mature plant. The European Union has only approved 12 cultivars to date, (approximately 600 germ plasms are held at the Valisov Institute), the majority of which are French, which is no surprise as they have been growing Industrial Hemp non-stop for hundreds of years. This of course, gave the French a virtual monopoly on Industrial Hemp seedstock until very recently.

At least two issues are currently confronting this situation; the Swiss, tired of this artificial monopoly, implemented a policy whereby provided you signed a statutory declaration stating that you would only utilise the crop for industrial purposes, you could grow whatever Hemp cultivar you liked. This has been a boon to Swiss farmers, who are enjoying increased Industrial Hemp production.

The second issue is in the European Union, Australia, England & Canada, Industrial Hemp farmers & researchers are pushing for a more realistic figure of 1 to 1.5% THC content in the mature plant. Given that the authorities generally recognise that for Marijuana to have any effect on human beings it must have 3-18% THC content, this proposal seems imminently logical.

Another problem faced by embryonic Industrial Hemp producers/farmers, is the high cost of approved cultivar seedstock, in general terms it is possible to purchase Industrial Hemp seedstock for as low as USD$500 per tonne, but realistically, it costs about USD$2500 per tonne at the time of writing, combine this with two other factors, high cost of transportation & a requirement to harvest the crop (Australia/Canada) prior to seed formation, means that farmers in New Zealand/ Canada/Australia, under those conditions will NEVER have acclimatised seedstock, (generally recognised as 3- 4 generations), nor genotypes bred for specific product end usage requirements in their particular geographic location. This has very dramatic effects on the economic models produced by these TRIAL crops. An Industrial Hemp trial crop from seedstock not acclimatised will never give a representative picture of the crops economic potential. The real value of trial crops realistically should be to produce cultivars suitable for local conditions.

We are talking optimum performance of known commercial cultivars here. As there is no acclimatised seedstock specifically designed for New Zealand soil types, trial crops will really only set a precedent to allow politicians & bureaucracy to become comfortable with their legislative requirements & add an onerous but unavoidable cost to early participants.

Male & female cannabis plants

This is the cannabis plant’s natural state and is called dioecious, which means that the male and female are separate plants, the male plant bears the pollen, while the female plant grows the seeds.

Throughout history, it has been known that the male plant has superior, finer, stronger fibre, although the fibre quality reduces significantly in both plants once the reproductive process starts. Unfortunately, the male plant usually starts the process before the female, and once the male’s flowering is completed the male plant dies. In earlier times, male plants were ‘pulled’ separately, (a very labour-intensive job), in order to get the superior fibre.

It is worth noting again that only the female plant is considered useful by marijuana growers, the male plant is pulled and discarded for fear of pollinating the female and thus reducing the female’s THC content. Authorities should note this fact, as, in the NZHIA view, it demonstrates the futility of attempting to produce marijuana in industrial Hemp crops.

A Russian hemp breeder first recognised the advantages of a monoecious hemp cultivar; an artificial cultivar that has both male and female on the same plant. It’s advantages are higher seed production and uniformity of crop readiness for harvest. The disadvantages are that it requires annual breeding selection, because in progressive plantings it regresses to the dioecious state, produces less seed in successive generations and has slightly inferior fibre to correctly harvested dioecious varieties from the onset.

There is a third type, artificially created, that is a female predominant variety (for seed production). This occurs by pollinating dioecious females with monoecious pollen. Irrespective of which cultivar is used, in a farming situation, seedstock for the following year must be carefully bred by seedstock specialists as the plant diverges quite markedly from its parents if allowed, i.e. there is a natural wide diversity of characteristics.

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