Questions for Robert Grice, Organic Hemp Grower
Phone Interview 22 Dec 2021
We recently spoke with Robert Grice, one of our Organic farmers in Canterbury. Robert has just planted another crop of hemp on BioGro certified land. We were curious about his personal experience with growing hemp, particularly with an organic licence.
How did you come to grow hemp?
Robert has been growing a variety of organic crops such as linseed, carrots, potatoes, onions, barley, peas, and mustard, and he became interested in trying hemp after the MPI restrictions were lifted in 2017 and hemp became the ‘new crop on the block’ with a lot of promise. The exceptional properties of the plant and its numerous applications from root to seed enticed him to give it a try, and he has not been disappointed. He told me that, unlike other crops, growing hemp has a ‘feel good factor,’ and he enjoys cycling around his farm and looking at the fully grown fields.
How many seasons have you been growing hemp and how much have you been growing?
Robert is now into his 5th season of growing organic hemp on around 20ha of his 350ha farm. The Cantaburian soil has been good for it as it’s light and free draining.
What positive things have noticed growing hemp?
Hemp, according to Robert, works well in rotation with other crops he grows. Its deep roots loosen the soil and it doesn’t need a lot of water. It is also a moderately hungry plant, but using best organic practices and planting nitrogen-fixing winter crops has been important and effective. They had to contend with strong winds that smashed large portions of the crop the previous season. He discovered that the plants continued to grow even after the incident, and he was able to harvest nearly the same amount of seed as in previous years – albeit with a bit more difficulty.
How have those seasons been and what challenges did you face?
Because it is still a new industry in New Zealand, there is a lot of learning and experimenting to be done. This year, he put a lot of effort into even sowing and making sure the soil was properly prepared. In addition to winter cover crops, he uses good organic compost and EM (Effective Microorganisms) solutions to continually improve the soil. ‘You have to give the seed the best start to grow, otherwise competing with weeds like fat hen can be a challenge,’ he says. Another issue he mentioned was that farmers in the hemp industry are dealing with a lack of infrastructure for the fibre, and he has discovered that the piling up of stalks after seed harvest is becoming a problem.
Are you planning to continue to grow hemp – if not what could be the reason not to?
Robert continues to be enthusiastic about growing hemp as part of his varied agricultural portfolio. He argues that what ultimately drives the decision to produce or not grow a crop is pricing and margins, but being in the organic market has been encouraging. He fully believes in the plant’s potential and is excited to be a part of its future development in New Zealand.