If you find yourself downwind of a wacky scent in the air, don’t blame the local youth.
A major medicinal cannabis producer is raising $20 million to establish growing operations somewhere in North Auckland and is currently exploring potential sites throughout the region.
Kumeu based Zeacann says with upcoming changes to regulation around commercial cultivation of cannabis, there is an opportunity for Rodney farmers to take part.
CEO Chris Fowlie says the district is ideal for growing cannabis, being a rural area with proximity to Auckland. This means regulators, processors, and research partners are all nearby.
“Anywhere that you see vineyards, there is an opportunity for cannabis. We look for a site that sees plenty of sunshine and rain, has good drainage and a large open space.”
“Anyone in the area looking at getting involved in the medicinal industry should get in touch and we can talk them through it.”
Under current regulation, the only legal opportunity for commercial cultivation of cannabis is to grow a variety of hemp that has had the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) bred out of it, and even then only for the purpose of harvesting the seed, which is used as a food source.
However, the more lucrative opportunity is in growing the same plant for its flower, which contains cannabidiol (CBD), the active ingredient in medicinal cannabis products.
Currently, farmers are prohibited from harvesting the flower, but the Ministry of Health is set to release a draft discussion document in July, which will outline new rules allowing for cannabis cultivation for CBD extraction in the future.
According to Mr Fowlie, trends in global CBD markets suggest that farmers could be paid $80-$120 per kilogram of hemp biomass. With yields typically at 1100kg–1600kg per hectare in the summer, this could mean an income of up to $200,000 per hectare.
He says it would be relatively easy for farmers already set up for growing strip crops, such as maize, to convert to growing cannabis.
But he says for farmers to be able get involved in the industry, the new regulation must avoid presenting unrealistic barriers.
“The question is, will the Ministry make it affordable for a farmer to get a licence and become a grower, or will it drive production to a few warehouses in Auckland under tight security?” he says.
“We think the public expects that the point of this scheme is to increase access to medical cannabis products to patients who need it, and we need a flourishing industry so we can bring the price down.”
In the long term, the binding referendum on personal use of recreational cannabis, including THC products, which is scheduled for the 2020 general election, could also significantly extend economic opportunity for cannabis crops.
“For THC plants, greenhouse production lends itself well because of the security and the ability to control the environment,” Mr Fowlie says.
“With a production of 2kg per square metre, at $10 a gram, a farmer could be looking at an income of $20,000 per square metre of greenhouse. Nothing compares to that kind of earning potential.”
He says growing cannabis in a greenhouse requires an electricity source and blackout cloth to be able to control the hours of daylight that the plant receives and would be well suited to farmers already growing capsicum or tomatoes.
“We’ve got quite a bit to get through before we can say there will be thousands of jobs created, but if we get the regulation right, there could be a billion-dollar industry that is run for the benefit of New Zealand with profits kept here and used for local grants.”
Interested farmers can contact: firstname.lastname@example.org