Hemp: to Grow or Not to Grow?

Hemp has been in the news a lot lately, and with the push to legalize Marijuana there’s a related effort to remove the restrictions on growing Hemp.  That’s because Marijuana and Hemp are close cousins – but Hemp is missing the psychoactive ingredient THC and unlike cousin Mary Jane, you won’t get high no matter how much of it you eat or smoke.

It does, however, have commercial value, and in the old days it was a valuable crop that was grown all over the world and the US, all the way back to Colonial times.  The plant is very fibrous, and those fibers make very good rope, cloth, and paper.  The plant’s bud does contain CBD, which is also found in Marijuana.  CBD has no harmful effects and appears to have a lot of benefits to humans.

However, as Marijuana’s cousin, Hemp was made a controlled substance, even though it doesn’t possess any psychotropic chemicals.  Growing it was outlawed by the federal government.  The prohibition is coming to an end, however.  The feds are presently allowing hemp to be grown for research purposes and hemp farms are springing up around the country.

Hemp proponents say it is the next big crop, with huge profit potential.  Hemp fiber is still useful as cloth or paper, and has industrial applications.  It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.  It’s a fast growing crop that can be grown just about anywhere.  It requires a third of the water that corn needs, has few pests and grows so close together it tends to choke out weeds.

There are some big issues with Hemp.  First is, at present there isn’t a big market for it. After all, it hasn’t been grown here since 1937.  Many of the original uses of hemp have been taken over by other fibers, both natural and manmade; there just isn’t the need for hemp that used to exist.  And, it’s a labor intensive crop.  The fibrous stalks are easily damaged by machine harvesting.

Several groups have formed to help stimulate marketing, and no doubt some bright Farmer will figure out how to mechanically harvest.  After all, we can pick grapes and berries with machines, why not Hemp?    Well, it will be interesting to see how this crop develops in the coming years.  I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.

Previously published on The Western View by AgNet West.

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