Harvest time at NZ's largest cannabis crop near Kaikōura

Harvest has begun at Winterhome. Photo: Pip O'Regan
Harvest has begun at Winterhome. Photo: Pip O'Regan
Tens of thousands of cannabis plants are being picked over the coming weeks, as harvest begins at New Zealand's largest commercial medical cannabis crop.

It's all happening on Winterhome farm, on the coast of Kēkerengū north of Kaikōura.

The Macfarlane family have farmed Winterhome for five generations, and sons Sank and Winston returned home to convert part of it into a 10 hectare cannabis crop.

"It's exciting to be part of," Sank Macfarlane told The Country's Jamie Mackay.

While the family was no stranger to growing crops, Sank admitted cannabis was a new proposition.

"I'm not a cannabis grower, never have been, and so it's sort of an experiment for me."

Hang drying medical cannabis flower. Photo: Pip O'Regan
Hang drying medical cannabis flower. Photo: Pip O'Regan
Luckily, growing unusual crops at Winterhome was in his genes.

"My parents, about 40 years ago, planted probably one of the southernmost avocado orchards in New Zealand and they grow beautifully there," he said.

"So that was a heads up that we should be able to grow something pretty special there."

As a coastal farm, Winterhome also had its advantages, Macfarlane said.

"Salt air helps us with the organic side of things. Salt spray manages to keep our pest and insect numbers down. That's a pretty big help for us here."

The crop was grown by medical cannabis company Puro, and planted in December 2020.

Macfarlane was one of the directors of Puro, and his brother Winston (a former grinder for Team NZ) was the site manager.

The site was chosen for its high UV ratings and very long sunshine hours, after a visit from Puro's cultivation director and co-founder, Tom Forrest.

A Churchill Fellowship recipient, Forrest had visited and studied more than 50 cannabis growing operations in 10 countries.

"Tom Forrest is now an integral part of the team...he arrived on the farm and instantly fell in love with it," Macfarlane said.

The crop was growing under organic protocols, with its organic certification process underway.

Puro site manager Winston Macfarlane hangs the top flower to dry at the drying facility in...
Puro site manager Winston Macfarlane hangs the top flower to dry at the drying facility in Kēkerengū. Photo: Pip O'Regan
An organic medicinal cannabis crop was an important point of difference, in a global market that was "growing exponentially every year" Macfarlane said.

"Collectively we agreed that was the route we wanted to go down."

"Certainly a more difficult route than the traditional methods, but we've had a very good growing season this year ... so it's made growing to organic protocols much easier."

More than 40 workers were expected to be on site during the peak of the harvest, which was being carried out completely by hand.

Macfarlane knew he had a "high value" crop on his hands, but the exact amount wouldn't be known until it was harvested and sold.

"I'm not 100 per cent sure - but we are aiming to grow at that premium end of the market."

"It is a medical crop…so we want to make sure that it's the best product you can get to put into your body."

Macfarlane believed the New Zealand market was behind the rest of the world when it came to medicinal cannabis, and Covid-19 had slowed down progress.

However, he also believed that was a blessing in disguise.

"That's probably been quite a good thing – we've learned a lot from around the world from the mistakes that they've made. The Ministry of Health has set the benchmark very high in terms of the product that we have to grow."

Overall it was an exciting venture to be involved in, and Macfarlane had high hopes for the future.

"The global market is booming and it's nice to be a part of it and getting involved in it."

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