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First crop of flowers harvested

Kiwi cannabis firm Rua Bioscience has reached a significant milestone on its road to becoming a sustainable business.

The company previously known as Hikurangi Cannabis announced this week the harvest of its first crop of flowers, derived from 5000 plants.

These plants were grown from a shipment of different high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and high CBD (cannabidiol) varieties received at the company’s growing facility earlier this year.

The company is not able to sell any of this crop, given that it was grown under a research licence.

“Medicinal cannabis produced in New Zealand cannot be sold until plants can be grown under commercial licences issued in the new year,” said Rua Bioscience chief executive Manu Caddie.

Instead, the plants will be used for ongoing research with Rua’s local partners, including Callaghan Innovation, University of Otago, University of Waikato, Victoria University of Wellington, Unitec Institute of Technology, ESR and Scion.

The aim of this research is to develop products that can be sold once the legislation changes.

These products could include oils, capsules and tinctures that can be sold to patients suffering from a wide range of ailments.

“We have started development of a number of medicines in various delivery forms for domestic and export markets but will await the final regulations due to be published next month to understand which product formulations will be permitted,” Mr Caddie said.

Through early research, Mr Caddie says the company has been able to identify a number of unique plants, which it plans to take forward into a genetic breeding programme.

He compared this to the kiwifruit industry, which has developed a range of high-value gold, green and red cultivars into highly valuable intellectual property. Should Rua manage to grow something similarly unique in the local market, it could lead to lucrative opportunities both locally and abroad.

But protecting its IP in the agricultural space can prove a challenge. This was seen earlier this week with news that kiwifruit company Zespri was planning legal action against Chinese growers for helping themselves to its prime SunGold plant material and using it to propagate up to 2500ha of illegal plantings.

As New Zealand’s numerous cannabis companies start to hustle to stand out in the market, the IP developed by their chief growers will become hugely important to their businesses.

There will also be fierce competition for the best growers in the country, given how technical cannabis harvesting can be.

“When harvesting flowers, timings are critical,” explained Rua head grower Brandon Veevers.

“A lead indicator that a plant is ready to harvest is the state of the trichome, which are small oil structures that look like bulbs on the end of tiny plant hairs. Harvesting too early or too late can mean that you are not going to get the results you want.”

Securing the best talent, protecting IP and then developing products clinically proven to help patients will ultimately determine the difference between the cannabis firms that make it and those that join the growing pile of business casualties around the world.

GOOD CROP: Rua Bioscience director Panapa Ehau in a growing facility. The company has harvested its first crop of flowers, product destined for ongoing research. File picture