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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.

Agricultural Hemp

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.

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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.

Hemp Crop

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 level.

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.

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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 farming methods.

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 seed varieties.

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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