Aotearoa's biggest ever cannabis harvest, and it's all organic – Stuff

Armed with a pair of special gloves with a rubber lining, seasonal workers hold the top flower of the cannabis plants with one hand and strip up the stem with the other one.
Left with a big handful of flowers, they put it into bins and load the trucks.
"If you pull it too quickly, all the flower flies up in the air, there is a bit of a technique," said medicinal cannabis company Puro co-founder and cultivation director Tom Forrest.
About 50,000 plants were harvested during the past four weeks on Puro’s cannabis crop in Kēkerengū, on the South Marlborough coast, weighing close to 30 tonnes.
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“For select days, when we had the full field going at full tilt, we had over 100 people working with a constant workflow of material being brought down.
“At one point, we harvested 1.2 tonnes of material in 45 minutes. RSE workers are machines! It’s like a beehive of activity,” Forrest said.
Once harvested, the plants are hung on drying racks for 10 to 14 days, losing about 80% of their weight.
"If we fast dry material, then it’s suitable for making a CBD isolate [all other cannabinoids have been removed], but if we slow dry the material, it’s suitable for making a full spectrum product, so cannabinoids plus terpenes [flavours and smells].”
Forrest said the biggest challenge during harvest was the compliance and the batch separation.
"If we’ve got two different types [of plant] in the field, they never come into contact one with another.
"We have separate rooms where material will come through and be processed, that room has to be cleaned before more material can come into it.
"So it’s not just growing cannabis and throwing it in a shed, it’s got the pharmaceutical levels of compliance attached to it,” Forrest said.
After drying, some of the material is milled, while other parts are trimmed, and then packaged into pharmaceutical starting material.
After harvest, the remaining stems are mulched and composted on site to be then used in future soil ameliorations.
“The plant can be harvested over a period of time, but once the window of ripeness has occurred, the plant will naturally senesce and would die over winter.
“We planted over 50,000 seedlings this year, next year we will aim to plant an additional 20,000 plants. As an annual crop, we plant the entire volume of plants every year,” Forrest said.
The Marlborough company grows eight different types of plants and researches four or five others in small quantities.
"Part of the process of being an early mover is we don’t know which cultivar is best suited to our environment.
"That’s kind of like the first people who came down to Marlborough with different grapes.
"We are at that stage where we are just trying a number of different cultivars from Europe and from America, and we’ve got some favourites that suit the region and suit our site as well.”
Forrest said cannabis has an amazing ability to adapt to different environments.
"It can grow from the Himalayas to Hawaii, from California to Tasmania, cannabis grows at almost every latitude, almost every altitude, it grows in the desert, it grows in the mountains.
"So for us, it’s quite exciting, because we’ve got this beautiful climate, we just want to find something that works for the pharmaceutical model, and for our cultivation method," he said.
Puro, which began planting in December 2020, commercially cultivates cannabis for medical use on two sites, one in Kēkerengū and one in the Waihopai Valley.
The company got a $13 million grant from the government to fast-track the establishment of an organic medical cannabis industry in New Zealand by developing a blueprint for other Kiwi companies.
The large farm operator will soon be building a 8000m2 glasshouse in the Waihopai Valley to grow more THC.
"It is part of our long-term plan to grow more THC in the Waihopai,” Forrest said.
"We would be trying different cultivation method with organic indoor cultivation in our glasshouse, we would be trying new cultivars, and also have processing and packaging on the edge of the glass house, so we will be trying different methods as well for cannabis as a premium flower product.”
The glasshouse will be built in different stages, with the first one expected to be operational early next year.
Forrest said their first export of Marlborough cannabis was now under way.
"We have just received our export licence, and we have a trial shipment of just under 150kg of starting material [material that would be extracted, not a finished product] coming to Australia.”
Cannabinoid – Chemical compounds that cause drug-like effects.
CBD – Abbreviation for cannabidiol, one of the many cannabinoids found in marijuana and hemp. THC is also a cannabinoid.
CBD isolate – all other cannabinoids have been removed.
Broad spectrum CBD – contains at least three other cannabinoids.
Starting material – fresh or dried cannabis that is intended to be used in, or for, a medicinal cannabis product.
Terpene – aromatic compounds, flavours and smells, in high concentration in cannabis plants.
THC – Abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis and one of at least 113 total cannabinoids identified on the plant.
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