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Hemp, an ancient natural fibre once widely used across early industries, then outlawed and stigmatised, is now staging a dramatic comeback. So why did it fall out of favour, and what changed to bring about its recent rise in popularity?

Hemp is a natural fibre just like jute, cotton or bamboo, derived from the bast fibre of the Cannabis Sativa plant. It is a fast-growing and hardy crop with excellent water retention properties and is proven to be one of the strongest natural fibres on earth. For these reasons, hemp was a widely used textile in ancient times, used to make rope, clothing and ship sails, with evidence of its use dating back thousands of years. In later years it was also recognised as a viable construction material due to its strength. And believe it or not, Henry Ford even made a car out of hemp!

However, in the mid-1900s, hemp’s fortunes turned and the fibre became enshrouded in stigma, even becoming banned in multiple countries. With the rise of the narcotic trade, 20th Century governments were beginning to crack down on and legislate against recreational drugs. This included marijuana which is also derived from a variety of the Cannabis Sativa plant. However – the key difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp does not contain THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s narcotic properties. Unfortunately, misunderstanding and misinformation meant that hemp, too, became a victim of this drug crackdown and became banished to the dark underworld of narcotics. Due to the crop being banned, its usage fell and other crops like cotton became more mainstream.

So what changed? How has hemp gone from a banned and stigmatised crop to a sought-after global superstar? Over time, with hemp no longer banned and education increasing, industries have begun to ‘rediscover’ hemp and its amazing properties and uses. And perhaps its most attractive ‘superpower’ to 21st Century industry is its sustainability. Scientists have found that hemp crops are natural carbon sinks; one of the best crops for absorbing CO2 from the air. Not only this, but the hardy crop requires no pesticides and little water to grow, resulting in minimal environmental impact through the growing process. It is this Green Factor that is really driving its success in a modern world much more conscious of our impact on our environmental surroundings.

While hemp has been trending globally for some years now, New Zealand’s take-up was initially slow. But hemp has proven it is no passing European fad. Our local industry is quickly catching up to Europe’s lead, with hemp now grown, harvested and processed here in New Zealand.

When the hemp plant is harvested, a ‘dual cropper’ harvesting machine is used to separate the two crop outputs – the stalk, and the seeds/grain, which have different applications and uses. The stalk is then processed further, separating the different fibre grades for various end uses. This separation process is called decortication. The result is a range of different products all from the same crop, which have a range of applications across many industries from textiles, to building materials, to food and cosmetics and beyond; an answer to the ever-growing demand for more sustainable, eco-friendly products.

So despite a history plagued with ups and downs, it is very evident that hemp is finally back – in a big way.

Advance Landscape Systems are excited to announce that our long-awaited hemp range will be officially available from 1st May. Our FuturFiber range combines locally grown hemp fibres with NZ wool fibres to create NZ’s first BioGro certified Hemp Matting/Mats for weed suppression and erosion control. Get in touch today to place your order!