A farm bill passed by the House of Representatives includes an amendment to grow hemp for academic or agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp farming is already legal. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), instrumental in getting the hemp bill provision included on the Senate Farm Bill said, "We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers." Kentucky is one of the 10 states that can now benefit from the passing of the hemp amendment.
Hemp is grown around the world in any climate and any soil. In fact more than 30 countries grow hemp for many industrial and commercial uses. With more than 75 percent of the global hemp market, China continues to devote more acreage to hemp agriculture. Industries worldwide are looking at hemp's sustainable and eco-friendly processes as a way to reduce costs and meet corporate climate change objectives.
While the United States is taking its first baby steps on the road to hemp legalization what are the environmental benefits to hemp production?
Here are nine reasons why a move to full scale hemp cultivation would be good for the environment:
Whether it is used to replace wood-based paper products or textiles such as cotton, hemp is grown in dense rows and its stalk can be harvested within 100 days. An acre of hemp produces as much paper as four acres of woodland.
With global deforestation occurring at an annual rate of approximately three percent per year, hemp offers an alternative to our vanishing woodlands. Hemp averages four times the yield of a forest, yielding anywhere between three and eight dry tons of fiber per acre.
All manner of paper products are being produced today from hemp owing to its strength and durability. Hemp also has low lignin content which allows it to be pulped with less chemicals. It's long fibers allow hemp-based paper to be recycled twice as much more than wood-based paper.
Ten times stronger than cotton, hemp fiber for clothing is one of the fastest growing industries related to hemp. Typically compared to cotton, hemp-based clothing requires a fraction of the water to grow than cotton. More absorbent and mildew-resistant than cotton, hemp clothing also protects against harmful UV rays.
As a weed itself, hemp out-muscles other invasive weeds precluding the use of herbicides. With few enemies from within the insect world, pesticide use is at a minimum in hemp agriculture. By comparison, half of the planet's pesticide use is sprayed on cotton and flax.
Oils extracted from its seeds are less expensive than extracting protein from soybeans. Hemp milk is also making inroads on grocery store shelves and hemp based nutritional supplements are jockeying for space at health food stores.
Hemp waste product — biomass — generated from one acre of crop yield can produce 1,000 gallons of clean-burning ethanol fuel. Theoretically, energy produced from hemp biomass could eventually supply all of the energy needs in the United States.
Fiberboard made from hemp-based composites are stronger and lighter than those made from wood. Beyond wood, hemp is also becoming a sustainable alternative for concrete. Mixing hemp with lime, produces soundproofing and insulating materials that are stronger and lighter than concrete. A hemp form of fiberglass may one day replace plastic piping.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction
Hemp's speedy grow cycle avoids the build-up of carbon dioxide. Dioxides released into the atmoshpere are absorbed by the next crop.
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), estimates that retail sales of hemp food and body care products set records in 2012, reaching $156 million. The HIA also reviewed sales of clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products, estimating the total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2012 to be at least $500 million.
With more than 25,000 known products that can be made with hemp, it is encouraging that The House has taken these first steps that will undoubtedly benefit the environment with the passing of House Resolution 525. The bill was originally introduced as an amendment by Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
A fully realized hemp industry will produce an economic boost while providing home grown jobs for American workers.