Hemp, like trees, beneficially modify our climate, make available
nutrients from deep down in the soil, protect the soil from erosion,
help maintain healthy water tables, and provide us with
sustainable food, fibre, building materials, and (biomass energy) fuel.
a solution to creating a diverse rural economy?
Scientists are continually telling us that global warming is
becoming an increasing threat to forests around the world.
This is especially true of boreal or northern forests
comprised of coniferous trees including aspen, spruce, fir and pine
ideally adapted to cold northern climates. Global warming could
destroy half the world’s boreal forests over the next
50 years if not checked.
Agricultural hemp should be considered as a possible alternative
not only for energy sources but to an array of
other products as well. Hemp fibre was once one of
Britain’s largest crops, and was used extensively by
ships rigged with ropes and sails made from hemp in the 1700’s.
By the late 19th century hemp was in global decline as the
American industrial revolution changed the economic course
of commerce with the exploitation of fossil fuels as
a source for producing energy, and the invention of the
cotton gin, which greatly reduced labour costs in the cotton industry.
In the early 20th century, a resurgence of hemp growing occurred
in America as a result of the need for farmers to seek new crops
during the Great Depression. New technologies were introduced to
harvest the hemp crop and a few entrepreneurs, such as Henry Ford
and Rudolf Diesel saw the realisation and potential of using
ethanol made from renewable biological materials instead of
petroleum products. Henry Ford actually used hemp laminates to
build his doors and fenders whilst Rudolf Diesel designed his diesel
engines to run on vegetable oils including hemp.
In 1937 Congress outlawed marijuana in the United States, which
caused much confusion for the farmers between the illegal plant
and commercial hemp farming. Hemp growers were taxed heavily,
and faced arrest and the industry was criminalized initiated by
self-interest corporate giants in the timber and petrochemical
industries where they would not personally benefit if hemp continued
to reach its’ commercial potential.
Agricultural hemp, or cannabis satvia, comes from a different plant
strain than the medical variety and is grown mainly for its fibres
and seeds, producing thousands of environmentally beneficial products.
It has a very low content of delta-9 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol),
and should not be confused with other strains of cannabis with a
high THC content, which is referred to as marijuana.
Major current producers of hemp fibre include India, China, Russia,
Korea, Romania and Hungary, where the cultivation of hemp has never
been prohibited. Since 1992, the EU had passed legislation to
commercially cultivate low-THC hemp along with subsidies including
France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain and Germany. The EU has
established a THC threshold in an attempt to distinguish between
agricultural hemp varieties and marijuana. For hemp farmers, a THC
ceiling of 0.2 percent on hemp varieties is allowed to be
cultivated in Europe.
In 1993, the British Home Office lifted previous restrictions on
commercial growing of hemp under an annual license and emphasise
that all plants in the cannabis family are controlled under the Misuse
of Drugs Act 1971 and that no distinction is made between low THC
varieties and those plant strains used for medical purposes; so the
confusion remains. Needless to mention, there is little cause for
mischief or misuse with agricultural hemp due to its’ very low THC
Agricultural hemp can play a significant role in providing a partial
solution to rural diversification due to its’ many benefits including
the ease of growing. It can grow just about anywhere without the need
for fertilisers or toxic chemical pesticides or insecticides and grows
to 12 to 15 feet in just 90 days. Products made from agricultural hemp
falls into 3 major categories, food, fibre and fuel.
As a low cost, high quality food source, it is extremely healthy.
Hemp seed is a vegetable source of complete protein and vitamins,
having all eight essential amino acids for human health. Sixty-six
percent of hemp protein is high quality, the highest percentage of
any plant source and contains 3 times as much vitamin E as flax.
Hemp oil, pressed from the hemp seed, is one of the best sources
of the two essential fatty acids (EFAs); omega 3 alpha-linolenic
acids and omega 6 linoleic acids. And hemp seed oil contains them
in an optimum ratio of 3 to 1 (3 omega 6 to one omega 3). Hemp seeds
and oil can be processed and blended to supplement porridge, burgers,
cheese, salad dressing, snack bars, cookies, or as a replacement for
any soybean product. The flour can be used as a gluten free alternative
or it can be blended with other natural flours to supplement any recipe.
No other single plant source provides complete protein nutrition in such
an easily digestible form, nor has the oils essential to life, in a
perfect ratio for human health and vitality.
Oils, cold pressed from the seed, can also enhance a complete range of
external body care products such as shaving lotions, deodorants, shampoos,
conditioners, body lotions, lip balm, soaps, and even bubble bath.
Cotton is the single most popular textile in the modern world, being
produced and consumed globally. It is also one of the most environmentally
damaging. Intensive, monocropping causes reduced soil fertility, water
pollution, and loss of biodiversity and health problems associated with
exposure to pesticides. It is popular because of its developed markets
and efficient processing technology. However, the hidden cost of production
on our environment is staggering. Therefore, we need to grow plants that
are sustainable, that can supply fibre for natural textiles, to meet our
current and future need without the use of harmful pollutants.
Agricultural hemp fibres, processed from the stalks, have great tensile
strength that makes strong natural bast fibre textiles used to produce
some 5,000 textile products, ranging from ropes to fine laces. The pulp,
from the hurds can provide paper products. One acre of hemp can produce
up to four times as much paper as cutting an acre of trees. The hurds,
the woody core remaining after the fibre is removed, contains more than
77% cellulose, which can be used to produce some 20,000 different products
including building composites such as biodegradable fibreboard used for
insulation, flooring, roofs, walls and even an array of plastic products.
We have the means to cultivate hemp by converting organic biomass into fuel
without adding any extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Hemp charcoal,
for example, has the same heating value as coal, with little sulphur to
pollute the earth. Natural waste materials from hemp stalks and other
agricultural wastes can be compacted without additives to make biomass
logs that have a greater radiant heat output than even coal or Coalite.
Hemp biomass can also be converted to methanol, to be used to run cars
designed for this type of fuel.
Cultivating the annual hemp plant plays an important role as a sustainable
crop for it performs well on well-manured land, reduces the need to control
weeds, returns abundant nutrients to the soil and restores the soil for
further cultivation, and of course, preserves our precious forests.
The future growth possibilities is ripe for small-scale farms to develop
domestic markets through hemp biodiversity and has advantages because hemp
can easily be incorporated into the farms existing crop rotation system.
Any land that grows corn or even grass can grow hemp utilising organic
Although there is an increased demand for hemp products, there is a vital
need to establish more hemp processors in the UK. At the present time,
there is only one commercial fibre processor in the UK. In order for our
farmers to grow more hemp, they need the capability to regionally process
this crop whether for fibre, food or fuel. Also, there is a requirement to
develop or modify existing harvesting machinery to cope with hemps’ strong
and resilient fibres and, of course, cultivating our own UK home-grown
These obstacles can be met with a better understanding of hemp’s long term
potential along with new investment toward processing plants. There is
little doubt that agricultural hemp can play a significant role in our farms
diversity program whilst contributing to restoring our forests.
What is Tree-Free Paper?
Tree-free paper is manufactured without the use of tree fibre. It is made from
vegetable fibres obtained from quickly renewed annual crops such as hemp, flax,
cereal, straw, corn or other vegetable oil plants. Therefore, no trees were cut
to make tree-free paper. It is one of the most environmentally friendly paper
products of our time.
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