Congress finally passed the new farm bill after three years of stalemate and sent it to President Obama for his signature. This bill isn't just covering the basics of agriculture, though. It has something new in it, or rather, a revival of something once a staple to American agriculture, industrial hemp.
Hemp was once the most revered commodity in America. If you had the land for farming, it was illegal not to grow hemp. You could even pay your taxes in hemp. It's value is immeasurable and that was once recognized. Competing industries recognized it's value, which is why it has been outlawed until now. Propaganda smear campaigns demonized the plant's medicinal values while associating the crop with the medicinal plant.
The new farm bill is the first start in rectifying that mistake. A new provision would allow universities and state agriculture departments to establish industrial hemp growing programs. There are already several states that have legalized industrial hemp and many more that are planning legislation, so this will have an immediate impact as we head into spring.
Aside from its known fibrous uses - e.g. paper, textiles, building materials - hemp also produces an oil. This oil can be used in foods, being another form of plant oil for cooking, but it can also be used as a fuel. The first Model T Ford was built to run on hemp fuel. The hemp option was only phased out after oil production grew in the early 20th century making gasoline more affordable. Surely, in today's world hemp would be the more affordable option.
Hemp is certainly the more eco-friendly option. While growing, the plant absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, much in the same way that oil drilling rigs do not. This helps to neutralize the effects of burning the fuel later, making hemp a carbon-neutral fuel. While true carbon neutrality may be a high claim, opening the door to research is the first step in getting us there.