Agricultural Hemp Essay, Research Paper
THE NEW GLOBAL HEMP INDUSTRY
Industrial hemp is similar to marijuana, but has only a tiny amount of Tetrahydro
Cannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that produces a high. Industrial hemp could even hurt
the state’s marijuana trade, because when people smoke hemp leaves they are only left
with a headache. Hemp is a type of the cannabis plant that has been selected over many
generations for fibre and seed production. Hemp is a bast fibre similar to flax, kenaf, and
sun hemp. It is flax with an attitude.
Hemp fiber is very similar to flax and has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Fiber hemp grows in many different climates, altitudes, soils and weather conditions. It is
grown for the fibers (outer bark), hurd (woody inner core) and seed. Hemp is sown during
April and May depending on climate. The stalks typically grow 10 to 12 feet tall in 100 to
120 days. Hemp cultivation requires no pesticides or herbicides. In many cases small
amounts of fertilizer are used.
Hemp crops are seeded in very tight rows. As the plants mature they form a dense
forest which chokes out weeds leaving the field in excellent condition for planting at the
beginning of the next season. When fiber hemp is harvested, the foliage can be left to rot
and then be turned back into the soil. This returns much of the nitrogen and nutrients back
to the soil so that less fertilization is required on subsequent plantings.
Hemp is typically harvested in August. Harvest times in other parts of the world
depend on climate and time of planting. Hemp fiber crops are harvested prior to flowering
for optimal fiber quality.
Fiber hemp is densely planted in rows. Very little foliage is produced. The foliage
in fiber hemp contains minute amounts of tetrahydral cannabinol (THC) which is the drug
component in marijuana. Marijuana is also comes from the cannabis plant but the THC
levels in marijuana varieties are 10 to 20 times higher than fiber hemp varieties. Fiber
hemp plants typically contain between .01% and .05% THC. Marijuana plants contain
between 3% and 15% THC. The hemp stalks and fiber contain no THC. Hemp stalks,
fiber and even the sterilized seed are legal under US law but hemp is still illegal to grow
without special permits.
After the hemp stalk is cut, it is laid out on the ground for 3 to 7 days (depending
on weather) so that it can be dried by the sun. It is then bundled and stacked in upright in
shocks that look like tee pee’s. In a good season a farmer can yield 10 to 12 metric tons of
dry stalk from 1 hectare (approximately 2.5 acres) of land. Hemp has been cultivated
continuously in eastern Europe for hundreds of years.
After drying and bundling, the hemp stalk must be baled and transported to a
rotting and processing facility. The drying process prepares the stalk for rotting. Rotting
is the process which begins to separate the fibers from the hurd by breaking down the
lignins or glues that hold the fibers and hurd together. Huge outdoor in ground tanks are
filled with water. Hemp stalk bales are placed in the water and allowed to “rott” for about
a week. The natural bacteria contained in the water breaks down the lignin’s and pectin’s
that attach the fibers to themselves as well as the herd.
Cotton, for example, has desirable features but is hard on the environment. Cotton
requires not only huge amounts of water but also enormous quantities of pesticides,
herbicides and fertilizers. Hemp, in contrast, will grow almost anywhere without depleting
the soil and needs little, if any, pesticides and herbicides. Those features, plus its high
yield per acre, also make hemp a potential raw material for paper.
One acre of hemp can produce as much usable fiber as 4 acres of trees or two
acres of cotton. Hemp fabric requires fewer chemicals than cotton and is stronger and
longer lasting. 5-10,000 Cancer related deaths are caused yearly from pesticide use.
Cotton uses as much as 40% of all agricultural pesticides. Hemp uses no pesticides and
crowds out weeds without herbicides. Cotton has a drinking problem…extensive water
subsidies. Hemp requires less water than cotton and grows in cooler climates.
Hemp is an excellent rotation crop: it crowds out weeds and its deep tap roots
break up hard pan soils. Hemp particle board may be up to 2 times stronger than wood
particleboard and holds nails better. Low-THC fiber hemp varieties developed by the
French and others have been available for over 20 years. It is said to be impossible to get
high from fiber hemp. Over 600,000 acres of hemp is grown worldwide with no drug
In 1941 Henry Ford built a plastic car made of fiber from hemp and wheat straw.
Anything made from a hydrocarbon can be made from a carbohydrate. The 21st century
should be the era of the carbohydrate (sustainable agricultural products.) Hemp plastic is
biodegradable, synthetic plastic is not. Hemp is the world’s most versatile fiber. Almost
any product that can be made from wood, cotton, or petroleum (including plastics) can be
made from hemp. Hemp fibre and seed, due to their high quality characteristics, are used
to produce a range of commodities including food and beverage products, fiberboard,
insulation, paper, composites, textiles, carpets, animal bedding and feed, cosmetics, body-
care products, clothing, medicines, fuel fiber, soaps, paints and many, many other
products. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to
fine laces and the woody ‘hurds’ remaining after the fiber has been removed contain more
than 77 percent cellulose and can be used to produce more than 26,000 products, ranging
from dynamite to Cellophane.
At least 26 countries permit commercial cultivation of hemp. World production
volume of hemp was reported to be 124,000 tons in 1992 with China, India, Korea,
Romania, and Russia as the major producers. Total acreage of hemp grown in Europe
increased five times from 1989 to1996, and was reported to have increased by 20,000 ha
in 1997. The U.S. imported $5 million in raw hemp and $25 million in finished hemp
products in 1996. US imports of hemp are growing at more than 50% a year.
Much of the crop is converted to biomass fuels to generate electricity and to
replace gasoline and heating oil, eliminating dependence on foreign petroleum. The plant’s
longest fibers are woven to fabric for clothes and carpets or pressed into particleboard for
lumber that’s stronger than wood. Cellulose and shorter fibers are processed into paper
and plastics, saving forests and further reducing the need for petroleum. Oil from the
seeds, meanwhile, is made into foods, soaps, cosmetics and even rayon-like fabrics.
A very limited variety of hemp seed is currently available on the international
market. All of the 45 hemp cultivators registered or in commercial trade are European.
These cultivators were developed in and for regions north of the 45th parallel and in
general will not perform well if moved closer to the equator by as little as 10-15%.
Although hamstrung by U.S. prohibitions against growing even non-intoxicating
strains of cannabis, a U.S. hemp industry dependent upon imported raw materials and
products has grown from about zero to $50 million in five years. That’s peanuts compared
with what will follow. They are laying the foundation for what is to be a $100 billion
industry in 20 years.
Hemp also can spare trees from being cut for construction materials. Hemp paper,
for example, is hardly a new idea. Legend says the very first paper was made from
hemp in China about 2,000 years ago. Hemp paper is longer lasting than wood pulp,
stronger, acid-free, and chlorine free. (Chlorine is estimated to cause up to 10% of all
Cancers.) Hemp paper can be recycled 7 times, wood pulp 4 times. Later, cotton, linen
wool and silk were used until chemical wood pulp began to dominate the paper industry in
the late 19th century. Hemp yields four times more pulp per acre than trees and is a
potentially cheaper source for all grades of paper. With worldwide paper consumption at
260 million tons a year, substitutes for wood are eagerly being sought. It said new
machinery had solved the problem of how to extract the fibers from hemp stalks without
prohibitive amounts of human labor. Hemp should be worth $500 per acre if used for low
end products such as particle board. If higher use products can be developed such as
specialty paper and fabrics, the value could be even greater.
Farmers can grow six tons of hemp biomass per acre in about 100 days. A major
fiberglass manufacturer has calculated that six tons of biomass would produce (1.5)tons of
usable fiber with a market value of $3,000 per acre.
Dry stem yields of 16.6 t/ha, and 2.6 t/ha total fibre have been recorded for hemp in
Europe according to a 1997 Government of Canada report. There is only one hemp
cultivator that is specifically grown for high yield seed production, and yields from this
cultivator are from 1-1.5 tons/ha. Additional high yielding seed cultivators need to be
Until the 1930’s, most paints were made from hemp seed oil and flax seed oil.
Hemp and flax oil make durable, long lasting paints because they contain high levels of
essential fatty acids that react with oxygen and dry into a thin film that makes wood water-
resistant. Several companies that import hemp oil manufacture hemp soap, shampoo, and
body care products in South Africa. Hemp seed oil can be combined with 15% methanol
to create a substitute for diesel fuel which burns 70% cleaner than petroleum diesel.
Hemp seed contains approximately 25% protein, 30% carbohydrates, and 15%
insoluble fibre. Hemp seed is reported to contain more easily digestible protein than
soybeans. Hemp seed is high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, carotene,
sulfur, iron and zinc, as well as Vitamins A, E, C, B1, B2, B3, and B6. Hemp seed is 25%
to 35% oil, and is one of the edible oils lowest in saturated fats. Hemp seed oil is the
richest source of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Both hemp and flax seed oil have
Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids EFA’s. Hemp seed oil has a nutty taste that is
somewhat similar to sunflower oil, and is reported to be more palatable than flax seed oil.
Hemp seed oil and flax seed oil are good for all food uses except cooking. Hemp and flax
seed pressed for oil must be bottled immediately under oxygen-free conditions, and must
be refrigerated in dark, airtight containers to prevent rancidity. After oil is extracted from
the hemp seed, the remaining seed cake is about 25% protein and makes an excellent feed
for chicken and cattle and fish. Chickens fed hemp seed on a regular basis have been found
to produce more eggs, without the added hormones used in most poultry plants. Hemp
beer can also be made from seed cake that is a by-product of oil pressing, and is
commercially available in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the US.
Hemp’s appeal for the fashion industry is to unfold. First and foremost are the
fiber’s intrinsic qualities: stronger than cotton, warmer than linen, more absorbent than
nylon. But in addition, he notes, hemp is environmentally friendly. Fashion designers
Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have climbed aboard the hemp bandwagon. Lauren
disclosed earlier this year that he secretly used hemp fabric in his clothing as far back as
his safari-inspired fall ‘84 collections. Klein used hemp for decorative pillows and other
items in his ’90’s home collection and has announced plans to use hemp in his clothing
lines. Adidas, Vans and other shoe manufacturers, either are marketing hemp-topped
sneakers or plan to do so.
Hemp is a product that is living up to its expectations and even passing them. It is
still in it’s early stages and has over 26,000 uses. Hemp is going to be used more and
more and grown more and more once legalities loosen up a bit. Hemp is a crop that is
growing more and more every year internationally
Canola Wheat Hemp(low) Hemp(avg.) Hemp(high)
Yield bu./ac. 30.00 35.00 14.30 19.00 23.80
Price $/bu. 6.30 3.59 7.50 8.38 9.25
Gross $/ac. 189.00 125.65 244.75 337.45 430.15
Costs $/as. 147.65 118.85 237.50 237.50 237.50
Net $/ac. 41.35 6.80 7.25 99.95 192.65
“I feel the industrial hemp crop could very easily be the soybean crop of the new
millennium.”- Jeffrey W. Gain, USDA
“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which
required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in
the annual growth of the hemp fields?” – Henry Ford Industrial Hemp