Hemp firms in New Zealand join to develop whole-plant technology

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Three New Zealand hemp firms have joined efforts to advance harvesting and processing technology that can bring higher returns for growers.

The companies, Hemp NZ, Carrfields and NZ Yarn say they’ve engineered multi-purpose cropping equipment that paves the way for whole-plant usage.

Under a partnership established late last year, the three have developed adaptations to combine harvester front attachments that capture seed while leaving the hemp stalks in the field for baling.

Factory going online

Meanwhile, Hemp NZ is now in the process of installing a state-of-the-art hemp fiber processing line in a 3000 sq. m facility at the NZ Yarn factory in Burnside, Christchurch. Hemp NZ acquired a 15% interest in NZ Yarn in late 2018.

“Until now, the only part of the hemp crop that has been harvested is the seed, however there are multiple parts of the plant that can be used, with the stalk being of particular interest as a source of fiber,” said Craig Carr, Group Managing Director of Carrfields and Chairman of NZ Yarn’s parent company Carrfields Primary Wool.

“We’re still fine-tuning our dual cropping equipment and processes but we’ve seen very pleasing results from our trials this year,” Carr said.

From yarn to hemp fiber

The retooling at NZ Yarn is turning a former wool carpet yarn spinning plant into a modern fiber processing facility with equipment purpose-built for hemp, the companies said in a release.

The new facility, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand, will produce high quality fiber, according to Dave Jordan, chief executive of Hemp NZ.

The processing equipment, built by Tatham, a manufacturer of textile machinery based in Bradford, UK, is fully commissioned and ready to operate later this year, the companies said, suggesting its startup may turn out the first-ever commercially processed hemp fiber in Australasia. Processing is expected to begin toward the end of this year at the new facility, using hemp stalks from the 2019 harvest.

By the 2020 harvest, between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares of hemp crop is expected to be harvested and processed through the facility.

“There is some commercial hemp production being developed in Europe but we’ve now caught up to where they are in terms of technology, infrastructure and innovation,” NZ Yarn’s Carr said.

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