Mastergrower Natie Ferreira has been appointed director of a new cannabis research centre at the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Bien Donne site in the Western Cape and has bold plans to transform the historic farm into a local hemp hub.
The historic Bien Donne wine estate in the Drakenstein valley is to be transformed into a hemp and cannabis hub thanks to the vision of mastergrower Natie Ferreira. Ferreira has finally slashed through red tape and got his hemp permit from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) after a 6 month wait. He is now legally allowed to grow 8 ha of hemp at the historic winelands farm, owned by ARC, which will now be called the Bien Donne Cannabis and Research Training Centre.
Marinda Louw Coetzee writes in Farmers Weekly (22 July 2022) that Ferreira’s permit includes old farm orchards, a barn that will be converted into an experimental kitchen and food factory. “The centre will focus on the cultivation of hemp for various uses, including food and fibre. In addition, a number of buildings and open spaces on the farm will be developed to house income-generating facilities such as a deli/restaurant, a dispensary and a nursery.” Key to the development is a hemp production training facility.
Ferreira’s permit allows him to propagate, sell and export hemp seeds and plants and is authorized under the Plant Improvement Act (PIA).
He told Farmers Weekly that the permit opened the way to a broader vision that included
bio-prospecting agreements with the local /Xam Bushmen, which he hoped would “preserve and develop these people’s cultural and ancestral knowledge of various indigenous plants.”
Ferreira, who has been involved in agriculture for the past two decades, is a specialist in “biodynamics and foodscaping”. The farm’s initial focus will be on hemp as a food crop with the fibre to be used for hempcrete.
From a cultivation perspective, the hemp will be planted outdoor in September with a view to harvest for grain in December and then another crop will be planted under lighting in January. Planting is done by hand and pest control procedures are similar to those used on tomatoes.
“At Bien Donne, we’re currently planting 30 to 50 plants a square metre with an intra-row spacing of between 10 cm and 50 cm, and 40 cm to 120 cm between the rows” said Ferreira.
“We farm organically, so we use natural methods and bought-in predatory mites to combat pests. Harvesting and post-harvest processes will also be done by hand”.
He says the soil and climate at Bien Donne are “ideal for incorporating vegetables into a mixed farming concern and the cultivation and preservation of heritage vegetables and indigenous crops will further diversify the operation.”