The hemp plant is harvested for its fibers, seed, and oil. It is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. Due to the similar leaf shape, hemp is frequently confused with marijuana. Although both plants are from the species cannabis, hemp contains virtually no THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana. Hemp cannot be used as a psychoactive drug because it produces virtually no THC (less than 1%), whereas marijuana produces between 5-20% THC. In the United States, Canada and Europe, the level of THC in hemp is limited to .03% or three tenths of one percent!
Hemp is a fiber plant with long slender primary fibers on the outer portion of the stalk. Unlike many other plants, Hemp requires limited pesticides because it grows so quickly and attracts few pests. Hemp crops are harvested at different times for different products. Harvesting stalks for high quality fiber occurs as soon as the crop is in flower, but before the seeds are produced. Harvesting for seed production occurs 4-6 weeks after flowering when the flowers are ripe and full of seeds. At this time, most of the leaf matter has fallen off and the seeds are easier to harvest. The seeds are then harvested with a combine tractor, cleaned and stored in grain bins until it is shipped.
History of Hemp
Industrial hemp has been grown in the U.S. since the first European settlers arrived in early 1600s. In 1619, it was illegal NOT to grow hemp in Jamestown, Virginia. Massachusetts and Connecticut had similar laws. In the 1700’s, subsidies and bounties were granted in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and other New England states in order to encourage hemp cultivation and manufacturing of cordage and canvas (the word “canvas” is rooted in “cannabis”). George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all grew hemp and actively advocated for commercial hemp production. Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper, and Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Some historians say that the first American Flag in 1776 was made from hemp because no other fiber was strong enough to withstand the salty air on naval ships. For over 200 years in colonial America, hemp was currency that one could use to pay their taxes! Hemp was a staple crop of American agriculture, reflected in town names like “Hempfield” and “Hempstead.”
Viewing hemp as a threat, a smear campaign against hemp was started by competing industries. At the same time as these campaigns, cotton’s popularity increased, so did the improvisations of the inventions and machinery relating to cotton. The hemp’s machinery lagged and stunted the growth of America’s hemp industry. The smear campaigns must have worked, because during the 1930’s hemp was lumped under the umbrella of “marihuana” in the Marihuana Tax Act (how they spelled it then). The law was aimed at regulating the narcotic varieties of cannabis, but due to being lumped together, the hemp industry was effectively regulated out of existence.
However, during World War II, the government needed hemp for the war. So, the USDA’s Hemp for Victory campaign was used to convince farmers to embrace hemp again. Hemp was needed for fiber for the war effort so much so that the USDA even produced brochures and an educational video for further encouragement to the growers. (See the “Hemp for Victory” in 1942 video here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWLpLIP3g-w )
Before becoming widely embraced again, the war ended and so did the large demand for domestic hemp fiber. Many farmers were left high and dry with partially constructed plants and cancelled hemp contracts.
With history repeating itself yet again in 1970, industrial hemp was classified as marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act despite decades of government funded agricultural research, and, therefore, became illegal as the rise of synthetic fabrics and fibers skyrocketed.
U.S. manufacturers are currently allowed to import raw hemp from Canada, Europe and China while domestic farmers miss out on this profitable opportunity to grow hemp. Progress is being made, though. In 2014, Section 706, Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research, of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, has allowed hemp reintroduction through state approved programs.
Why has hemp been undervalued and underutilized? Politics. Today, approximately 50% of all the world’s pesticides are sprayed on cotton. Hemp doesn’t require many pesticides because it grows so quickly and doesn’t attract many pests. Hemp can yield 3-8 dry tons of fiber per acre, which is four times what an average forest can yield; and, hemp grows in months and not years, like trees. Because of hemp’s long fibers, the products will be stronger and/or lighter than those made from wood. Many people might not realize that much of the bird seed sold in the US has hemp seed (imported from other countries) because its hulls contain approximately 25% protein. Hemp can be used in place of many plastics as well. Hemp plastic is recyclable and can be manufactured to be 100% biodegradable. Hemp can also be used for fuel in two ways: the oil from the pressed hempseed can be turned into biodiesel, or the fermented stalk can be made into ethanol and methanol, both are much cleaner for the air and biodegradable. So again, why haven’t we tapped into the great uses of hemp? Politics. But we are making progress and now the people of the United States are getting back to their roots and bringing back the hemp plant. Our founding fathers may not have understood why the hemp plant was so useful like we do now with our scientific labs breaking it down to a micro level; but, they did know that if you ate it, you felt better. If you used its fiber, you could make clothes, ropes, fabric, paper and many other items. So now, we can take that knowledge and build upon it to make hemp even more useful to us today. And that is exactly what we are doing here at Founder’s Hemp.