A tip for American farmers: Grow hemp, make money
After a 77-year break, hemp plants are growing in American soil again. Right now, in fact. If you hear farmers from South Carolina to Hawaii shouting “God bless America,” the reason isn't because Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper (he did). Nor is it because the canvas that put the “covered” in pioneer covered wagons was made of hemp nor that the hemp webbing in his parachute saved George H.W. Bush's life in World War II.
Nope. It's because U.S. policy is finally acknowledging that hemp can help restore our agricultural economy and allow American family farmers to get in on a hemp market that, just north of us in Canada, is verging on $1 billion a year.
Hemp is a variety of cannabis — and thus a cousin of marijuana — that contains 0.3 percent or less of the psychoactive component THC. (Marijuana plants typically contain 5 percent to 20 percent THC.) You can't get high from hemp but, starting in 1937, U.S. drug laws made cultivating it off limits.
Finally, the U.S. hemp industry is back. A provision in the 2014 farm bill signed by President Obama on Feb. 7 removed hemp grown for research purposes from the Controlled Substances Act, the main federal drug law.
Not a moment too soon. American farmers have been watching as Canadian farmers clear huge profits from hemp: $250 per acre in 2013. By comparison, South Dakota State University predicts that soy, a major crop, will net U.S. farmers $71 per acre in 2014.
Canada's windfall has been largely due to the American demand for omega-balanced hempseed oil. But hemp also is a go-to material for dozens of applications all over the world. In a Dutch factory recently, I held the stronger-than-steel hemp fiber that's used in Mercedes door panels and Britain's Marks and Spencer department store chain used hemp fiber insulation in a new flagship outlet. “Hempcrete” outperforms fiberglass insulation.
Farmers I've interviewed from Oregon to Ohio have gotten the memo. In a Kansas-abutting corner of eastern Colorado, in the town of Springfield, Ryan Loflin, 41, wants to save his family farm with hemp. “It takes half the water that wheat does,” Loflin told me, scooping up a handful of drought-scarred soil so parched it evoked the Sahara, “and provides four times the income. Hemp is going to revive farming families in the climate-change era.”
From an agronomic perspective, American farmers need to start by importing dozens of hemp varieties (known as cultivars) from seed stock worldwide. This is vital because our own hemp seed stock, once the envy of the world, was lost to prohibition. This requires diversity and quantity because North Dakota's soil and climate are different from Kentucky's, which are different from California's. Also, the broad variety of hemp applications requires distinct cultivars.
But one final hurdle has been placed in front of American hemp entrepreneurs. In Kentucky, U.S. Customs officials, at the behest of the Drug Enforcement Administration, in May seized a 286-pound shipment of Italian hemp seed bound for the state's agriculture department. After a weeklong standoff, a federal agency had to be reminded by the federal courts that the law had changed and Kentucky's seed imports were legal.
Just last month at the Canadian border, the DEA seized another shipment of hemp seeds, this time bound for Colorado farmers. This counterproductive nonsense must stop.
We're down to 1 percent of Americans farming; it was 30 percent when our world-leading hemp industry was stymied in 1937. The crop is more valuable today than it was then. We should be waving flags and holding parades for the farmers ready to plant the crop that Thomas Jefferson called “vastly desirable.” I know I'm ready. To cheer, and to plant.
Doug Fine is the author of “Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 2 found dead in Harrison home
- Mother, baby found dead in Millvale apartment
- Steelers sign former ACC Player of the Year Boyd for QB depth
- Polamalu could be next in long line of Steelers greats given unceremonial exit
- Route 422 closed after serious accident in Kittanning Township
- Accident near Highland Park Bridge backs up Route 28 traffic
- Allegheny County Controller candidates quarrel 2 days before Dem endorsement vote
- Wolf reverses Corbett, says deal between Highmark, UPMC doesn’t limit continuity of care to very ill
- Pitt star running back Conner likes to give back, savors charity work
- WPIAL heavyweights take 3 spots in PIAA Class AA semifinals
- Legal opinion clears way for Pa. distributors to sell beer 12-packs