By Fonterra’s director for Category, Strategy & Innovation, Mark Piper
Hemp success at Fonterra’s Darfield farm
It remains one of the world’s most controversial (and misunderstood) plants, but hemp has not only proven itself as a versatile natural fibre to make a wide range of products, from shoes, clothing, to paper, it’s now shown itself as the perfect crop for Fonterra.
While hemp looks like cannabis, it does not contain high levels of THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, but is a super-crop in terms of its resilience.
It’s that resilience that made it a great option for a first-of-its-kind pilot to see how hemp thrives under dairy wastewater irrigation at the Co-op’s Darfield farm just outside of Christchurch.
After a successful trial last summer of 10 hectares (the equivalent to 10 rugby fields) the team at Darfield farm will be expanding the trial to 25 hectares, with planting starting in the coming weeks.
The dry, hot Canterbury summers make it challenging to find the ideal crop and so far, hemp’s proven a profitable, hardy and nutrient-gobbling alternative to the usual pasture grown at the 850ha Darfield farm.
It grows very well, even in drought conditions, and the hemp has also improved productivity at the farm while reducing its environmental footprint. And by partnering with a local agriculture business, Carrfields Ltd, the hemp has been used in products such as flour and oil, tripling crop profits.
Hemp has many benefits:
- Quick to establish
- Vigorous growth
- Minimal fertiliser and chemical input
- Soaks up nutrients, so reduces potential leaching
Sustainability is at the core of Fonterra’s strategy. Our New Zealand farmers are already among the most efficient in the world, with an on-farm carbon footprint approximately one-third of the global average. But we’re not stopping there, and hemp’s just one of the many innovations Fonterra is trialling as we try to be an even more sustainable dairy producer.
Mark Piper is Fonterra’s director for Category, Strategy & Innovation and has been with the Co-operative for more than 20 years in different parts of the business. He leads Fonterra’s Palmerston North-based Research and Development Centre (FRDC) – home to more than 350 researchers, engineers, nutritionists and scientists from 46 different countries, with more 4,500 years of combined dairy experience.