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Earthworks . . . Site preparation gets under way near Culverden for a hemp processing plant. Photo: Supplied

By Robyn Bristow

A hemp processing facility should be operating near Culverden in North Canterbury by March.

Earthworks have begun for the Mainland Hemp plant, 5km from Culverden.

It aims to be open in time to process hemp being grown on local farms.

The facility has its roots in The Brothers Green, a company that delivered its first Hempy Bar to local New World supermarkets this week.

Founding trio … From left, Brad Lake, Brendon McIntosh and Michael Burnett. Photo: Supplied

The protein bar, which has an earthy nutty flavour like a mix between hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds, is the brainchild of North Canterbury-based rural banker Brad Lake, pharmacist Brendon McIntosh, and Michael Burnett, an agri-business professional working for a dairy company.

All have quit their jobs to commit to the project.

Once it gained momentum, Sam Smith, who works on his parents’ farm outside Culverden, became involved.

The manufacturing plant was hatched, and contracting growers began in earnest.

This season, more than 150 hectares of hemp will be grown under contract on about 10 family farms in the Hurunui district, opening up new opportunities for farmers.

The venture had its roots in a Foodstuffs South Island-sponsored competition, which had support from the Ministry of Awesome and the regional development agency ChristchurchNZ. It attracted 69 entrants from around the country.

Brendon and Brad picked up an $85,000 prize package as the winners of the competition for startup businesses making innovative food products.

Brendon said winning was awesome, but they were naive about how long it would take to get the product to market.

Their first stop was with a food developer with a view to getting the product to market by March this year.

“We quickly learnt that it wasn’t going to be easy.”

He and Brad then decided to quit their jobs to give the venture a “real go”. Two more months later they sought the help of Michael to join The Brothers Green. Support also came from Marion Johnson.

When they realised the scale of the operation needed to produce enough bars, they were basically back to square one, Brendon says. Foodstuffs also began to exert pressure, saying it wanted the product on its shelves by September 16.

Baker Boys in Wainoni came to their rescue, eventually giving them the thumbs-up to produce the bars.

“This motivated us to go a bit harder, and squeeze our datelines,” he says. “It has been a massive learning curve, but an awesome experience.”

They had to go to the Gold Coast to get compostable packaging, which proved a lot more expensive than plastic. “But we are really pleased with the end product.”

The plant came next, with Sam knowing Brad at school. Sam says it is hoped eventually the whole business will be Hurunui-based.

He says there are plans to expand the business next year, increasing the number of hectares grown to meet demand.

Plans are being made to produce more products and maybe eventually develop a market for the fibre.

Mainland Hemp has also brought a drying machine because hemp seed has to be dried within four hours of harvest.

Sam says this will also be available to local arable farmers who may wish to use it to dry other seeds, such as ryegrass and other specialist seeds when it is up and running in November.

The manufacturing plant has to be 5km from a school, and it is not allowed to be seen from the road.

Brendon says the business will be great for the Hurunui district. “It is going to be huge, the town (Culverden) is going to boom.”

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley sees huge opportunities for the industry.

“One of the benefits is it has low nutrient and low water requirements,” he says.

“It will increase productivity without increasing our carbon and nutrient footprint,” he says.

“I am really supportive and see huge opportunities for the natural fibre as well. I am passionate about wool and another fibre will help fill a massive gap in the industry.”

Brendon and Brad picked up an $85,000 prize package as the winners of the competition for startup businesses making innovative food products.

Brendon said winning was awesome, but they were naive about how long it would take
to get the product to market.

Their first stop was with a food developer with a view to getting the product to market by March this year.

“We quickly learnt that it wasn’t going to be easy.”

He and Brad then decided to quit their jobs to give the venture a “real go”. Two
months later they sought the help of Michael to join The Brothers Green. Support also
came from Marion Johnson.

When they realised the scale of the operation needed to produce enough bars, they
were basically back to square one, Brendon says.

Foodstuffs also began to exert pressure, saying it wanted the product on its shelves by September 16.

Baker Boys in Wainoni came to their rescue, eventually giving them the thumbs-up to produce the bars.

“This motivated us to go a bit harder, and squeeze our datelines,” he says. “It has
been a massive learning curve, but an awesome experience.”

They had to go to the Gold Coast to get compostable packaging, which proved a lot
more expensive than plastic.

“But we are really pleased with the end product.”

The plant came next, with Sam knowing Brad at school.
Sam says it is hoped that eventually the whole business will be Hurunui-based.

He says there are plans to expand the business next year, increasing the number of
hectares grown to meet demand.

Plans are being made to produce more products and perhaps eventually develop a
market for the fibre.

Mainland Hemp has also brought a drying machine because hemp seed has to be
dried within four hours of harvest.

Sam says this will also be available to local arable farmers who may wish to use it
to dry other seeds, such as ryegrass and other specialist crops when it is up and
running in November.

The manufacturing plant has to be 5km from a school, and it is not allowed to be seen
from the road.

Brendon says the business will be great for the Hurunui district. “It is going to be huge.

The town (Culverden) is going to boom.”
Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley sees huge opportunities for the industry.

“One of the benefits is it has low nutrient and low water requirements,” he says.

“It will increase productivity without increasing our carbon and nutrient footprint,” he says.

“I am really supportive and see huge opportunities for the natural fibre as well.

“I am passionate about wool and another fibre will help fill a massive gap in the industry.”