Commercial Hemp Production

Hemp vs Marijuana

Before we dive into the pros and cons of hemp production, we need to identify what hemp is and what it is not.  Both hemp and marijuana are variations of the cannabis sativa plant.  They are very different though.  The substance that has concerned legislators for decades is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).  THC is the substance in the marijuana plant that produces a “high”.  While marijuana may have up to 30% THC, hemp contains less than 0.3% THC.  In other words, marijuana makes you high; hemp does not. 

Hemp does contain much higher amounts of a substance called cannabidiol (CBD) which has many medicinal applications but is not intoxicating.  So, hemp is the healthy, medicinal, non-intoxicating version of the cannabis sativa plant, while marijuana is the intoxicating, party version of the plant. 

 

Hemp Uses

Stalk fibers

Hemp has been used in a wide variety of products over the centuries and millennia.  These stalk fibers from the hemp plant have been used in ropes, clothing, textiles, fishnets, curtains, carpets, burlap, sacking, shoes, towels, newspapers, packing materials, building materials (hempcrete), and so much more.

Hempcrete is an amazing product.  Hempcrete is a mold-resistant, fire-resistant, lightweight, durable, sustainable, high-quality insulator made of hemp hurds (from the stalk), ground limestone, and water.  It is a carbon-negative product that can replace insulation, drywall, and cement.  So it is even environmentally-friendly.[1]

When comparing hemp to cotton, hemp is the clear winner.[1]  Hemp requires about half the water (than cotton) to grow.[2]  Hemp produces 200% - 250% more fiber per acre than cotton.[2]  Hemp requires no pesticides or other chemicals in order to grow.[2]  Hemp grows in such a way that the hemp plants overpower weeds, killing the weeds, making weed-control chemicals unnecessary.[1][2]  Hemp fibers get softer over time, but do not break down (repeated wear and washing) like cotton fabrics.[1][2]  Hemp is breathable and wicks away moisture away from the body effectively.[2]  But, unlike cotton, hemp carries anti-bacterial properties that surpass any other natural fiber.[2]

Personally, I can attest to the strength of the hemp fibers.  In 1993, I bought a hair scrunchie from a store called 100% Hemp.  I had that scrunchie for years and years.  Although I used it almost daily and washed it frequently, it was always as strong as the day I bought it. 

As a parent, I am stunned by how quickly my children’s clothing rips, tears, or gets worn down to threads after only a month or two.  The quality is ridiculously low.  Clothing made from hemp would provide that extra durability that is required for clothing of children who want to run, play, and explore their world. 

Edible Seeds

The seeds of the hemp plant produce milk and oil that have a lot of health benefits.  Hemp seeds can often be found in smoothie recipes and vegan recipes.  Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of omega-3s.[3]  The seeds are used to make hemp nut and hemp oil.  The hemp nut is used for bread, granola, milk, ice cream, and protein powder.[4]  The hemp oil is used for cooking oils, salad dressings, essential fatty acid supplements, and cosmetics.[5]  It is also being explored as a biofuel diesel alternative.[6] 

CBD Oil (medicinal purposes)7

CBD Oil has been involved in medical studies and has been shown to be an effective pain reliever.  It also reduces anxiety and depression, alleviates cancer-related symptoms, reduces acne, reduces muscle spasms and seizures, and lowers high blood pressure (which is linked to strokes and heart attacks).[7]  Some studies suggest that CBD oil have antipsychotic effects and may help with schizophrenia and other mental disorders.  Other studies have suggested that CBD helps with the withdrawal and treatment of drug addictions, making it easier and more likely successfully recover from addictions.  It has been shown to prevent the spread of various cancers (breast, prostate, brain, colon, and lung).  CBD has also been shown to reduce the incidence of diabetes in mice by 56%. 

The studies and research into the health benefits of CBD are relatively new.  Since hemp has been so closely monitored and illegal for so long, research into the medicinal benefits was seriously hampered.  Now, with newly relaxed regulations, research into the benefits of CBD is growing rapidly.  As this new scientific field continues to grow, it is likely that we could find that CBD from hemp is one of the greatest medical discoveries of our time, capable to treating an even wider range of ailments.

Additional uses for industrial hemp can be seen in Figure 1, which is from a CRS Report that was “Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress”.

 

(Figure 1: Modern Uses for Industrial Hemp, Congressional research Service, Hemp As an Agricultural Commodity, Renee Johnson, Specialist in Agricultural Policy, June 22, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32725.pdf, accessed February 2, 2019.)

 

Cost of Production

Hemp plants need half the water that cotton needs and a third of the water needs for corn.  Hemp needs virtually no weed chemicals because the hemp plant is for dense and hearty that is smothers the weeds.  Hemp doesn’t require any chemicals to grow.  This makes growing hemp much easier and cheaper to grow than most other crops.  It also is a high-yield plant with a short (70-110-day) harvest cycle. 

Adding hemp to the crop rotation has been shown to improve yields, reduce soil erosion, regenerates soil, and aerates the soil[5]increasing yields and profits even when in the years that other crops are grown.[4]

In Illinois, corn and soybeans are our state top crops, but the farmers are not making much money on those crops.  For corn, the revenue per acre is about $700, but when you factor in the costs like pesticides, fertilizers, and various other costs, that profit for the farmer nearly evaporates entirely, sometimes causing the farmer to lose money.[8]  Soybeans do much better with $549 in revenue per acre, but with lower costs for fertilizers, pesticides, and other expenses, the profit is higher, but still barely profitable.[8]

Hemp growers have claimed to make much larger profits.  John Bell from Kentucky claims that he earns $1,000 to $3,000 per successful acre.[4]  Various environments produce various results.  However, in areas where there is a lot of rain, the hemp plants thrive and grow without any assistance.  This cuts down on the expenses, leaving more of the revenue for profits. 

 

Industrial Hemp Production in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District

Bringing industrial hemp production to Illinois’s 2nd Congressional District will provide an economic boost to our economy.  It will allow our farmers to start earning more profits, while providing an extremely versatile crop that has endless uses.  As this sector continues to boom over the upcoming decades, our farmers will be well positioned on the front lines of production and profits. 

As our farmers produce more industrial hemp, the need for more factories to turn those stalks and seeds into everyday products will continue to grow.  This will provide a new boom for the manufacturing industry. 

               

 

[1] Leafly, Kentucky Hempsters, Hemp Vs. Cotton: 3 Reasons Why Cotton Is Not King (and Why Hemp Should Be), October 8, 2015, https://www.leafly.com/news/strains-products/hemp-vs-cotton-3-reasons-why-cotton-is-not-king, accessed February 2, 2019.

[2] Trusted Clothes, Cotton Vs. Hemp, posted on April 27, 2016, https://www.trustedclothes.com/blog/2016/04/27/cotton-vs-hemp/, accessed February 2, 2019.

[3] Medical News Today, Ware, Megan RDN LD, Reviewed by Natalie Olsen, Rd, LD, ACSM EP-C, What Are the Health Benefits of Hemp?, November 19, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308044.php, accessed February 2, 2019.

[4] Civil Eats, “Hemp is on the Horizon.  Will it Change the Game for Farm Country?”, Cooke, Christina, FARMING, Rural Environment and Agriculture Project, March 6, 2018, https://civileats.com/2018/03/06/hemp-is-on-the-horizon-will-it-change-the-game-for-farmers/, accessed December 18, 2018.

[5] How Stuff Compares, “Hemp Versus Cotton”, http://www.howstuffcompares.com/doc/h/hemp-vs-cotton.htm, accessed December 18, 2018.

[6] How Stuff Works, Truong, Alice, Hemp Energy: Sounds Like a Joke, But It’s Not!, https://auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/biofuels/hemp-energy.htm, citing findings from graduate students from University on Connecticut, accessed February 2, 2019.

[7] Healthline, 7 Benefits and Uses of CBD Oil (Plus Side Effects), evidence-based citing numerous studies in the National Institutes of Health and Pub Med (Division of US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health), https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cbd-oil-benefits, accessed February 2, 2019.

[8] Illinois Farm Doc Daily, Weekly Farm Economics, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois, “2017 Crop Budgets, 2016 Crop Returns and 2016 Incomes”, Schnitkey, Gary, September 27, 2016, https://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2016/09/2017-crop-budgets-2016-crop-returns-incomes.html, accessed December 18, 2018.

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