ITT-TECH Salem, VA
Industrial Hemp: An Economic Plus For years the American Economy has been on a roller-coaster of instability. Among the hardest hit are rural areas, especially in coalfields of central Appalachia. In a social climate that expects one to look forward, perhaps it is best to look first to the past. These hard hit areas may need to look back to a time when the small farm could sustain a family and groups of farms could sustain an area. This would of course require a crop that is easy to grow in these areas; produces a high yield with minimal additional expense; have multiple use; and an already established history of marketability. This might sound like an impossible combination of traits, but such a product does exist. That is why industrial hemp is the economic crop that rural America needs to embrace now. Hemp has a complicated past with America. Until the mid to late 1900’s, hemp was a major cash crop in America. Due to hemp’s close kinship with marijuana, hemp was regulated in the 1938 Marijuana Act (Brady, T. 2003). Hemp became a major crop again during the 1940’s with the need for hemp fiber during World War II, but was quickly pushed out of favor soon after (Hanson, R. 2012). During the 1950’s anti-drug legislation made it illegal to raise hemp, and the Controlled Substance Act hemp production was placed under the control of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) instead of the U.S Department of Agriculture (Hanson, R. 20012). This has now changed with the Farm Bill of 2014. Congress included provisions allowing universities and agriculture departments to plant crops for research with state approval (Queen, J. 2014). This is the first step to full scale industrial hemp production. Hemp became regulated as an attempt to control marijuana plant growing in the United States. At the time this seemed logical to law makers and the public didn’t put up much resistance mostly because the differences in the two plants are seldom pointed out. While both plants are of the Cannabis family, there are distinct differences. Marijuana plants are grown shorter and spaced out more so that you receive fewer fiber stalks and more leaf growth. In addition, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana is usually greater than 3% (Hanson, R 2012). THC is the psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis. Hemp, by contrast, is planted closer together and grows tall. The plant has larger, longer fiber stalks and fewer leaves. Most important difference is that hemp has less than 1% THC (Hanson, R 2012). This means that the two plants should never be grown together. The effect would be cross pollination lowering the THC levels in the marijuana making the marijuana undesirable (Lash, R 2002). A person can try to smoke hemp all day long, and they will not get high. The multiple uses of hemp make it an ideal cash crop. Parts of the plant that has industrial uses are the fiber in the stalks and the hemp seed. The hemp seed can be used as a dietary source. Hemp seed itself can be ground into flour. This flour can be used any way a person uses flour, but it makes is known best for pasta. Hemp seed oil includes 8 essential amino acids and 2 essential fatty acids (Lash, R 2002). Hemp seed oil can be used in manufacturing many items that use standard petroleum oils. These include non-toxic paints and varnishes, and soft plastics (Keller, N M 2013). One important use that cannot be overstated is the use of hemp seed oil in making bio-fuel. The relative quick cultivation of hemp seed and the fact that hemp seed is 45% oil, means that large amounts of domestic plant oil can be produced easily. Making bio-fuel an actually obtainable alternative to petroleum fuel (Keller, N M 2013). The uses of hemp fiber go back for thousands of years. Well known uses of hemp fiber include cloth for cloths and bags, rope, and paper (Queen, J 2014).