Tens of thousands of cannabis plants are being picked over the coming weeks, as harvest begins of the country’s largest commercial medical cannabis crop.
The plants are being grown at Kēkerengū on the Kaikōura coast by medical cannabis company, Puro. Puro planted the 10-hectare crop of medical cannabis in December 2020.
Following the harvest the plants will go to the company’s drying facility, which has been purpose-built on the site. At nearly 1,000 square metres it is New Zealand’s largest cannabis drying facility and is home to specialist equipment, imported by Puro for the specific purpose of drying cannabis for pharmaceutical supply.
Puro Managing Director Tim Aldridge says this is a significant milestone for the company and for this emerging New Zealand industry.
"This large-scale commercial harvest is a moment to celebrate. It’s one year from when the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme came into force. It has been a huge 12 months for Puro, from getting the licences, importing seed, completing facilities and building our team. Having harvested product in hand is a really rewarding feeling for all involved.
“We are also excited to now have product available for local and international pharmaceutical manufacturers. Internationally the medical cannabis market is growing rapidly, and we are well placed to create a niche position for Puro, and New Zealand, as suppliers of a high-quality, high value product,” says Tim.
At its Kēkerengū site Puro is growing under organic protocols with its organic certification process underway. It’s expected that, once accredited, Puro will be one of only a few large-scale certified organic growers in the world providing the company a unique position in key export markets.
More than 40 workers are expected to be on site during the peak of Puro’s Kēkerengū harvest, which is being carried out completely by hand.
“Our team will be going plant to plant, picking the valuable top flower first and then harvesting the remainder of the plant, which will be dried as biomass. We expect harvest to take around five weeks, as various cultivars reach maturity at slightly different times,” says Tim.
Any plant material that is less desirable for medicines manufacture (stalk and leaf) will ultimately be returned back into the soil as a natural amendment to help build the soil nutrient content and quality for next year’s crop.
While the hand-harvest takes place in the field, Puro’s brand-new drying facility will be a hive of activity, with three different drying methods being used for various parts of the plant.
“We have conveyer belt dryers for the biomass product, but the top flowers will be hang-dried – a traditional, natural drying method which allows us to capture the full aspects of the plant, which is important to create full-spectrum products that include terpenes and flavonoids,” says Tim.
Some of the drying technologies being used are unique to Puro, including the custom-designed, locally-built cannabis drying rack that can hold up to 500kg of wet material. It is in a temperature, airflow and humidity-controlled area that enables precise drying methodology, including collection of water removal data.
Helius Therapeutics is a biotechnology company focused on medicinal cannabis research and development.
Helius Chief Executive Officer Carman Doran says the Puro harvest is another positive milestone for New Zealand’s newest industry.
“2021 is a critical year for our local medicinal cannabis providers. This large-scale commercial harvest is significant step forward for the industry, which is working closely together to realise the enormous potential this industry offers. In fact, all the players are set to get together at MedCan Summit 2021 in October with collaboration and innovation key for this fascinating sector,” says Ms Doran.
Puro was founded just over two years ago. Since then the company has established itself as a specialist contract grower with two growing sites operational. As well as its outdoor crops at Kēkerengū, Puro is growing high THC cultivars indoors at its research facility in the Waihopai Valley, Blenheim.
Puro has received and processed small volume orders within the New Zealand medical cannabis industry. Once its products have been dried and tested, Puro will start the compliance processes required for export.