View Full Version : The Hemp case

28-05-2012, 09:36 PM
44Today the main market for industrial hemp is seed for oil, which oil is used in hemp foods and hemp bodycare products, but depite being one of the most nutritionally complete foods on the planet, hemp foods are still illegal in all of Australia and New Zealand, although the sale of hemp oil for ‘non-human consumption’ is allowed.

The driving force behind the efforts to reform the law to allow the production of hemp products in New Zealand is D.J. “Mack” McIntosh, who has spent the past 18 years jumping every bureaucratic hurdle imaginable in, virtually, a single-handed campaign to grow hemp legally in New Zealand. Mack is well known for his efforts on behalf of the Paua industry and his story can be seen here.


Sitting on his veranda in a remote, bush-clad valley in the heart of the Catlins Forest Park, South Otago, Mack weighs up the cost of what he calls a “hideous battle”, wading through a mountain of red tape.“If we relied on bureaucrats, we would all still be living in caves fighting over half-raw pieces of meat, because they never do anything adventurous, or exciting,” he said.

His battle to legalise hemp started in 1990.Rural New Zealand was “stuck between a rock and a hard place” and desperately looking for alternative crops. Mack read that hemp grew well in Poland, the same latitude as New Zealand, and wondered why the crop was not grown here.

Hemp is grown throughout the world and every part of the plant is used, from its strong, light natural fibre to the oil from the seed, which is used in soaps, cosmetics, breads and all manner of foodstuffs.Mack researched and wrote The Five Minute Guide to Industrial Hemp in New Zealand and chairs the New Zealand Hemp Industries Association.

“When I started doing this I was a millionaire. Now I’m on a pension on the bones of my arse,” he jokes.

Ironically, Mack had almost run out of resources and was about to give up the fight when he was advised by the Director General of Health in July that the new hemp cultivar he had developed had been approved under the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006. What that means is Mack is now licensed to grow Cannabis sativa (aka industrial hemp) on his property from seed stock he has bred specifically for the New Zealand climate.

That in itself is a victory for common sense, Mack said, and a credit to bureaucracy finally seeing reason. He puts that down to the support of a few key people in powerful positions who understood the logic of his argument.

“I’ve done the hard yards of knocking the legislation into shape,” he said. “It really needs a strong organisation now to stop the bureaucrats treating hemp like a drug. “Even though it’s administered as a drug, the fact is the Government would not be licensing us to grow it if it was. It’s really that simple.”

The biggest obstacle the hemp industry has is that it shares the same botanical name as its “cousin with the bad reputation” and is therefore deemed guilty by association. In fact, hemp has insignificant traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psycho-active ingredient of marijuana.
When the Labour Government relented to pressure to relax legislation against hemp in 2001, Mack was the first person licensed to import hemp seed into New Zealand. Nine cultivars were planted in trial plots at 19 different locations throughout the country and those trials identified a couple of promising cultivars from Canada.

Mack then sourced a unique cold-tolerant variety from the Chino-Russo border, imported 65 grams of seed, grew it, bulked it up and selectively bred it and stabilised it for its best characteristics over the next four to five years.
“The result was Aotearoa1, which I would say is the best hemp cultivar available in the world that I am aware of in terms of productivity, the latitudes at which it will grow and for its short 120-day growing cycle.”
Aotearoa1 is a short-stature, high seed producing cultivar which is disease and pest-resistant. It is unique in that it is the only cultivar that thrives at latitudes of 46 degrees. “Most hemp crops that I’ve seen around the world in my view are starving,” Mack said. Worldwide, seed production averages just 600-700kg/acre, or in some cases per hectare.
In Canada, where 200,000ha of hemp was grown a few years ago, and the Ukraine, if growers want another 100,000 tonnes they simply plant another 100,000 hectares. They are not interested in productivity or plant breeding, so nothing has been done to develop new cultivars for 100 years.

Mack worked alongside agronomy experts at Massey University for three years, where he experimented with different hemp crop planting densities and productivity experiments. Using wide spacing and an intensive market gardening-style growing regime, he produced the equivalent of 10 tonnes of seed per hectare, but said cropping farmers would not use such intensive methods.He has used the same intensive techniques to selectively breed, improve and bulk up his Aotearoa1 cultivar on a small plot on his property in the Catlins.

“I’m probably one of few people in the world who has spent three years living in the middle of a hemp crop,” he said. “I learnt an incredible amount about its growth cycle. Realistically, you couldn’t get a researcher to do that. It would just cost too much.”
Hemp goes through several growth cycles, including a vegetative growth phase where the plant grows 5-10cms a day and produces a huge biomass of 25 tonnes/ha. New Zealand-wide trials showed for every degree of latitude north the plant is grown, its height increases by half a metre, up to a height of 5m.

“That’s where I think it has great potential for the production of bio-ethanol,” Mack said, but a lot more data was needed to confirm that.
“I think it’s an absolutely amazing plant with a huge future in terms of biofuels if we stick with the sort of fuels we are using now.”
Hemp will always have its supporters of small growers for “trendy, niche market applications”, but Mack believes the crop now really needs a big investor with real capital to lift it to a commercial status.

The industry needs someone with mechanical expertise to really develop hemp’s potential, extracting oil from seed or developing lightweight building products, concrete, insulation and fibreglass substitutes from natural hemp fibre and bioplastics to name a few promising end uses.
“But it needs someone in the engineering field to do that,” he said. “I’m just Mad Mack from Tawanui. Even if I built a house out of hemp it would be simply be a quaint curiosity.