A medicinal cannabis, or hemp, crop planted near Gore has performed above expectations despite dry conditions and a short growing season.
The 1ha crop is one of four trial plots being grown in Southland by Mataura company Southern Medicinal, which has set up a hemp propagating and manufacturing business in the town’s former paper mill.
Southern Medicinal managing director Greg Marshall said the first crop was planted just before Christmas.
However, the plants had gone straight from the laboratory at the mill to the paddock and were not hardened up for outdoor conditions.
“Our first planting got really decimated by the wind.
“Just about then we had 140km winds.”
Two more planting sessions in January filled in the gaps in the crop and now there were about 2900 plants in the plot.
“What’s most amazing is how much it has grown in the space of 69 days,” he said.
Some of the first plants were about 30cm tall when they were planted out, but the second and third lot of seedlings were only about 5cm tall.
“The second and third plantings got very high survival rates.”
Some of the plants had grown to about 1m tall and were ready for harvesting.
The seedlings were planted about a metre apart with enough room between the rows for a vehicle to pass through.
He had estimated the plants would produce 500kg of flowers per hectare but now expected it would be closer to 800kg given the results from a small plot nearby.
“The plant likes it here.
“It’s done incredibly well in a drought.”
The plant required little input in terms of fertiliser and pesticides.
“It’s got naturally inbuilt predator defence.”
Even though there was evidence of possums and rabbits on the farm, the crop had not been eaten.
When ready for harvesting, the plant weighed about 750g and produced about 400g of flowers.
A well-shaped plant sent out layers of branches where the flowers grew.
“You want them to bush out like a Christmas tree.”
Compared with its close relative cannabis, the hemp Southern Medicinal grew had low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which was the ingredient which gave cannabis users a high.
It was grown for its bioactive components, such as cannabidiol (CBD), which were compounds which affected the biology of the body.
While it has been legal to use therapeutic products made from cannabis since 2018, a doctor’s prescription is required.
After the flowers had been taken from the plant, most of the biomass of the plant was left and would be processed into dried pellets for animal food, Mr Marshall said.
Trials would be undertaken at Lincoln University to confirm it was suitable as stock food.
Seedlings were already being grown for next year’s crop but the planting plan had been modified.
This year the plants would spend September in tunnel houses on farms before being planted out in October.
The company’s business model was based on about 150 farmers growing from 2ha to 5ha each.
At full production, the company aimed to have one million plants a year growing in Southland.