The wool industry continues to face challenges with depressed wool prices for a third year in a row, says Primary Wool Cooperative chair Janette Osborne.
Farmers will have long-term opportunities to diversify into hemp and those already growing it will be able to sell a greater proportion of their product.
Christchurch-based NZ Yarn Ltd, a world-leading producer of wool yarns for the global soft flooring market, has announced a new shareholder and business partner -- Hemp New Zealand Ltd.
Under the agreement, Hemp NZ has bought a 15% interest in NZ Yarn, and will install a plant to process hemp fibre at the NZ Yarn factory in Burnside, Christchurch.
The new partnership expects to lead in innovations in hemp fibre processing and to develop new consumer products made from hemp yarn, wool and hemp yarn blends and non-woven wool and hemp products.
NZ Yarn chairman Craig Carr told Rural News farmers are now growing hemp in small volumes but there will be more opportunities with the ability to convert the fibre into products.
“The opportunity opens up now for farmers who are growing hemp for them to also sell their fibre which can be processed through the factory and made into products and incorporated into wool products.
“Hemp has been grown in New Zealand for several years but mainly for seed which is squeezed for oil and there are by-products from that. The crop residue has been burnt or incorporated back into the soil.”
Hemp is a strong, powerful fibre that gives opportunity to push the natural fibre story.
The new Christchurch plant will be installed about September-October with full production in 2020.
“A whole new line is going in there which will take a bale of hemp straw and out will come different products. It can be made into woven mats, yarn mixed with wool… there are a number of opportunities,” Carr says.
They will now start looking at new products in wool and hemp and at incorporating both fibres to make unique products.
“Their technical team is evaluating options and talking to high-end customers about what characteristics they are looking for. They are excited at the opportunity.
“Natural fibre is an increasingly important part of the product offering now and in the future. The combination of both gives unique textures and a unique story.”
Carr says Hemp has many synergies with wool, as well as sustainable ethical provenance and environmental credentials.
“These qualities are of critical importance given the environmental catastrophe which synthetic fibres are contributing to,” Carr says.
One of the key first products is ideally suited to the carpet industry.
“We are excited by the opportunity. It is something we can grow and add value to in our NZ economy and we can see how it can go further.
These characteristics make hemp a great addition to NZ’s natural fibre marketing story alongside wool, says Carr.
“We see the partnership with Hemp New Zealand as a fantastic opportunity for farmers to diversify into growing hemp and to be part of the resurgence of natural fibre, as well as the diverse future uses of hemp we are looking forward to developing with Hemp New Zealand,” he says.
Big step for hemp
Hemp New Zealand's investment in NZ Yarn signifies a major step in the growth and development of the hemp industry in New Zealand, says chief executive Dave Jordan.
It will also enable Hemp NZ to set up a leading-edge natural fibre processing line, which separates hemp stalks into fibre (which can be woven and used in yarn systems) and hurd (the woody core material which has fire retardant and insulating properties and has many uses, including in the construction industry).
The processing line, likely the first of its kind in NZ, will enable Hemp New Zealand and NZ Yarn to jointly develop hemp-based and a combination of wool and hemp-based products for the consumer and industrial markets in NZ and overseas, Jordan says.
“There are many consumer and industrial uses for hemp fibre and hurd. We’re excited about partnering with NZ Yarn and initially developing hemp and wool yarn blends which will provide consumers with a wider variety of products made from natural fibres,” he says.
“We will also be working with NZ Yarn to investigate other uses for the fibre and hurd, which provide an environmentally friendly alternative for a huge range of industries globally including consumer products, food and industrial applications.”
Hemp fibre has a long history of human use dating back thousands of years and is now strongly resurgent globally, says Jordan.
“The resurgence in popularity of hemp is based on its excellent environmental characteristics. It is pest-resistant, easy to grow organically and produces a good yield of fibre per hectare compared with many other crops.”