Funding of hemp fibre innovation set to propel New Zealand on to world stage

New Government funding will help a New Zealand hemp fibre company explore untapped opportunities – from soft flooring to food packaging that’s more environmentally sustainable.

The Government is contributing $1.34 million through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to New Zealand Natural Fibres’ (NZNF) five-year research and development programme project.

NZNF is the only hemp fibre company in New Zealand that controls its own supply chain end-to-end. The company is contributing a further $2 million in cash and in kind to the project.

“We plan to use the SFF Futures funding to develop our hemp growing, processing and marketing capability to ‘go further, faster’ towards taking a global leadership position in the development of industrial and consumer products made from hemp fibre,” says NZNF CEO Colin McKenzie.

“We are very pleased to have received government backing to continue our work with hemp fibre, which has huge potential to be part of the solution to some of the most crucial environmental challenges facing our planet today.

“We’re especially excited about ramping up our work to develop some innovative new products.”

The investment builds on a previous SFF Futures grant of $202,000 to develop sustainable technology and processes to produce fit-for-purpose hemp fibre from harvested stems, without the use of chemicals.

Steve Penno, MPI’s director of investment programmes, says NZNF will develop its activities across 4 separate workstreams over the next 5 years.

“The team will focus on hemp plant genetics, including sourcing and developing new varieties, as well as on-farm production and agronomic development. The SFF Futures funding will boost NZNF’s efforts to develop a range of new products and establish a path to market.”

Colin McKenzie says NZNF will be working on a range of innovations.

“As well as developing hemp fibre-based products, we’ll be developing blended wool and hemp fibres for use in soft flooring and outdoor activewear,” says Mr McKenzie.

“We’re also developing and testing non-woven products, including a natural hemp fibre-based material that could replace single-use plastic food packaging, and a hemp fibre replacement for synthetic geotextiles used to stabilise soil in infrastructure works.

“In addition, we plan to investigate using hemp fibre to produce a natural replacement for carbon composites, packaging and building materials, plus other industrial applications.”

Steve Penno says this project aligns well with Fit for a Better World, the Government’s food and fibre sector roadmap guiding New Zealand’s export-led recovery from COVID-19.

“SFF Futures is a key part of our drive to offer transformational opportunities to boost the contribution of the primary sector and lead the way to a more sustainable economy.

“This project aims to do just that – by showcasing Kiwi innovation at its best. It promises to add considerable value to our hemp fibre industry, and potentially to our local and national economies.”

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries  

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog