Hemp success at 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 revealed 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 is expanding the trial to 25 hectares. 

Fonterra’s Regional Farm Operations Manager, Steve Veix says 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 farm.

“We were approached by the local agriculture business Carrfields Limited team to trial planting hemp and after some research of our own, we went for it. From there we took advice from the team at Carrfields, given the newness of the crop in New Zealand.”

What they found is that hemp is:

  • Quick to establish
  • Has vigorous growth
  • Requires minimal fertiliser and chemical input
  • Water-efficient
  • Drought-resistant
  • Soaks up nutrients, so reduces potential leaching

While the hemp has reduced the farm’s environmental footprint, it’s also improved its productivity - through the partnership with Carrfields Ltd, the hemp has been used in products such as flour and oil, tripling crop profits.

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.