america needs to be growing more hemp

Could the U.S. Become a Hemp Powerhouse?

It used to be a huge crop in the U.S. Here's what it would take to bring it back

The weed crop is becoming big business, thanks to legalization in several states. But weed has a close cousin that could also become a lucrative commodity in the United States: hemp.

Hemp played a big role in the U.S. economy in the 1800s and again during World War II, and it still appears in everything from food to fuel to T-shirts. But virtually all of the hemp used to make those things in the U.S. is imported. That’s because, like weed, hemp has THC, which is what gets you high when you smoke it. There’s much less of it in hemp (0.3 percent versus 30 percent), which won’t get you high, but the mere presence of THC has made it illegal to grow in most states.

That changed in February, with the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill that allowed universities and state departments of agriculture to launch pilot programs for industrial hemp. Some states are jumping at the opportunity: 12 already have laws to allow for industrial hemp production, which raises the question about whether America could become a hemp power again. Last year American retailers sold an estimated $581 million of products containing hemp seeds and fibers.

A hemp harvest in Colorado last year, the first-known harvest of the plant in more than 60 years.

AP/Kristen Wyatt

One of those approved states, Kentucky, which hasn’t grown industrial hemp in nearly 70 years, has already had a run-in with the feds. The DEA recently seized a shipment of 13 varieties of hemp seeds sent from Italy and bound for Louisville. Last week, the seeds were finally released, and two colleges in the state will now be allowed to plant the hemp seeds to test which strains have the most commercial potential.

Hemp can grow to about 18 feet tall, and the seeds are crushed into oils and flours that go into various foods, as well as body-care products like soaps and shampoos. Dozens of countries grow hemp, with much of the U.S. hemp coming from Europe, China and Canada—the latter exported over $33 million worth of hemp seeds and other raw hemp materials to the United States in 2013, according to CATSNET Analytics.

Long before it became a controversial plant, industrial hemp enjoyed a prodigious history in the U.S. It was used to make sails and riggings, and was even the subject of the Department of Agriculture’s propaganda film “Hemp for Victory,” which became a rallying cry for farmers to grow the crop for America during World War II.

So what will it take for the United States to grow its own hemp industry? We asked Anndrea Hermann, president of the Hemp Industries Association and a special committee member of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.

Anndrea Hermann

Facebook/Anndrea Hermann

Use infrastructure that’s already in place.

The United States already has food processing plants and farming equipment that customarily handle other crops that will have the ability to work with industrial hemp, Hermann says. “Equipment-wise, it’s all there. Drying vents [and] seed cleaners—that equipment is very turn-key.”

Begin to mass-produce the crop in other states.

Whatever happens with the 13 acres of hemp plots that are part of Kentucky’s pilot program will be a strong indicator of how the crop can be mass-produced throughout the country, says Hermann. “We could see varieties we were growing in Canada grow very well in North Dakota and in Montana.”

“We can also see varieties that we are growing in Southern Ontario work well in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin [and] Vermont,” she adds.

Identify areas that may be better for seed production and the ones better growing for fiber.

In Europe, seeds grown in one area, then supplied to another country with a different climate, have created specialty farms aimed at growing and harvesting specific parts of the hemp plant. “Now we’re going to have an area that specializes in pedigree seed production be able to supply other areas where the agronomics are better-suited for fiber production,” says Hermann.

Understand that growing industrial hemp is not like growing the marijuana plant.

 “When you’re growing for ‘marijuana,’ you prevent the male plants from pollinating the female plants. The act of preventing pollination causes the plant to produce a bud instead of the seed head,” says Hermann. When growing for industrial hemp, a field is full (upwards of 50 percent) of male plants with the intention “that the male plants will pollinate the female plants producing planting seed,” she adds.

Recognize that Canada does not want to bogart the industrial hemp industry.

Having a thriving industrial hemp industry in America will add security in the marketplace. “As you start to look at launching hemp into mainstream food production, we are going to need that supply stability, especially as we look at North America as a provider of quality hemp materials globally,” says Hermann.

“There’s a big hemp pie out there, and there’s lots of room for people to have their place in it.”

 

Respond Now
  • Agreed!

  • It is known also that each growing female plant can produce twice the amount of oxygen than any other living plant. Making marijuana growth in California a free ticket to reversing the green house effect happening there since developement removed all the trees producing the oxygen. No wonder California is in a drought; theres more pollution in the air than there is oxygen, so less oxygen producing clouds. Grow marijuana in California as an idustry and reverse the Greenhouse effect!

  • Will any country ever be a hemp powerhouse?  There is already a worldwide hemp industry and there are no real hemp powerhouses because there just isn’t that much demand for hemp. A lot of Canadian farmers lost their shirt when they legalized because farmers got all excited and way over-produced and they couldn’t sell their crops.  Now they mainly just grow for seed used in various products and don’t really grow that much. Even the Chinese can’t really make much money from hemp. It ought to be legal, and will be someday. It’s a useful crop and maybe will end up being a valuable crop like it was in the past. But the fact is that when it was made illegal in the US, hardly any of it was being grown. It wasn’t profitable. For textile purpopses it’s very labor intensive, like linen from flax, so hemp fabics are expensive like linen. There is all kinds of pro-hemp material out there about what a great biofuel feedstock hemp is, but in reality it’s not being used commercially as a biofeul feedstock anywhere because there are better options.  Again, it ought to be legal, as should marijuana, but if you look at the existing worldwide hemp industry, what hemp is being used for for the most part in real life, the demand for it, “powerhouse” isn’t a word that comes to mind.  

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Bill you are right, however, with some technological innovation that can change and it can become a powerhouse.

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • The biggest difference it can make to me. Is using it to make biodegradable plastic. Also one acre of hemp pulp is equal to 5 acres of forest pulp, and hemp grows back every year, the forest doesn’t. 

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