Ralph Ballinger sounds like such a good bloke, the in real old-school Kiwi sense of the term. A hero in World War II, he was aboard the one ship that survived the Luftwaffe's first major assault, at the Battle of Crete, and was then drafted to the Cambridge Agricultural Institute to help develop plants to feed the British people.
He protested that although he had an agricultural degree, he didn't know much about creating seed stock. They just told him to get on with it, and that he did.
Back home after the war, he married Pat and moved to Blenheim, eventually becoming famous for supplying asparagus to the Queen.
Marlborough horticulturalist Ralph Ballinger supplied asparagus to the Queen – but he was also an accomplished poppy grower. SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF
But Ralph had another skill; one that could, had it not been ignored (or deliberately disregarded) have led to world dominance for New Zealand in a brand new export sector. In his story lies one of the great missed opportunities in New Zealand's trading history.
In the 1950s, Ralph was the world's foremost expert in the cultivation of opium poppies, increasingly in demand worldwide for legitimate purposes. Opium is used to make morphine and codeine. Under Ralph's watch, the Marlborough region had the opportunity to corner the market on legal opium export for use in the burgeoning pharmaceutical sector.
Lisa Beach helps to cultivate the cannabis at the plant near Ruatoria. CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFF
For some reason, the political masters of the day declined to support the idea. Australian authorities were not so short-sighted; by the mid-1960s an opium poppy farming industry had been established in Tasmania. That snow provides almost half the world's demand for the raw material, with hundreds of millions of dollars in export earnings a year.
Ripped off again by the Aussies, but this time it really was our own fault.
Fast forward six decades and there are leading lights in today's agricultural scene who are pleading for New Zealand not to make the same mistake again.
The cannabis plants are suited for medicinal uses as they are low in THC, but high in CBD content. CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFF
In 2016 Massey University Scientist Dr Mike Nichols said that New Zealand's horticultural technology and innovation could give us the edge when it comes to supplying medicinal cannabis. He pointed out that while a log from a tree is a poor performer gram for gram in comparison; export cannabis could sell for thousands of dollars a kilo.
It would be a great shame if the opportunities that sit, waiting, in front of a company like Hikurangi Hemp are wasted. While there is no suggestion that the legislation currently moving through the Parliamentary process will lead to an export industry, the interest from overseas in New-Zealand grown cannabis is hard to ignore.
But there are already politicians who seemingly just can't wait to put a hurdle in the path.
Panapa Eha and Manu Caddie are the Managing Directors of the Hikurangi Cannabis Company. CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFF
The suggestion that people who might have previous convictions for cannabis-related offences under the prohibition model, should be excluded from working in a place like Hikurangi Hemp is nonsensical.
It's like suggesting that a person with a DUI or some other alcohol-related conviction should be barred from working in a supermarket. Don't tell me this is false equivalence – the only difference in the two examples is that alcohol is currently legal (and heavily promoted much to the great detriment of New Zealand society) and cannabis is not.
These are people who have lived experience of the growing of cannabis, who might have fallen foul of the law but who have served their time. The argument that companies like this should not seek their expertise, and pay them a wage which will keep them from having to resort to crime to feed their families, because they might try to steal a couple of buds at the end of a shift is childish and ridiculous.
Rob Thomson holds a harvested cannabis plant. CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFF
This is the kind of minor-issue distraction that could derail an important, nation-wide discussion.
The example of Hikurangi Hemp will be an important test. It seems there is a world of buyers, for legitimate purposes, just waiting to access our product. I hope we don't screw it up this time.
DF author's note: The (brief) remainder of the article has been truncated due to being unrelated.