Holy Hemp!

Hemp plants are growing in American soil again.  Hemp is a variety of cannabis, a cousin of marijuana, but contains o.3% or less of the psychoactive component THC – so the only thing you’ll get if you smoke it is a headache.  Farmers don’t have carte blanche yet for wholesale industrial planting, but odds are that it’s not too far in the distance.  The recent Farm Bill removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and allows research to grow for seed.

There’s dollars in them thar hills!  Canada is reaping in a neat $1 billion in hemp to feed the market for omega-rich hemp seed oil. Factories in the U.K. and elsewhere are churning out biocrete (or Hempcrete), a gloppy substance that makes phenomenal R-value building insulation that outperforms fiber-glass. In 2009, China’s president demanded farmers grow 2 million acres of hemp to replace the pesticide-heavy cotton. (Are you listening America?)  Hemp cloth was used for the first American flag, for the “covered” wagons of Westward expansion, for parachutes and now for mold-resistant shower curtains. Actually the list of uses for hemp, whether cloth, oil, nutrition, biofuel, biocrete or other products is astonishing.

This has tremendous value and opportunity for new farmers like our returning veterans, as well as established farmers who want a better return on their sweat and effort. For example, soy is expected to pay $71 per acre this year to farmers.  Canadian farmers made $250 a hemp acre last year.  Do the math.  Plus, it doesn’t need the pesticides or genetic engineering that soy does — it grows so thickly and tough that weeds and bugs don’t stand a chance.  That means that soils can be remediated from years of chemical poisoning and watersheds can rebound. A two-fer.  Well, multiple benefits actually.

Colorado and Kentucky seem to be taking the lead on hemp production, but I don’t imagine Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and California will be far behind once the shackles are unlocked.  Kentucky aims to remediate soils destroyed by coal production and tobacco, growing hemp for biofuel.  Hemp is a dual use plant in that the seeds are one crop and the biomass of the plant is another.  Can you hear the “cha-ching” of cash registers?

If you want to know more, or to help this effort along ….  Ask your senator to support the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon).  Or pick up the book I’ve used for much of the info in this article, Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution, by Doug Fine.  Or, like me, get well versed from a documentary film, “Bringing it Home” (http://www.bringingithomemovie.com).

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