So what makes hemp just so wonderful on the one hand and feared on the other? The magic number for hemp is its percentage of cellulose, which is as high as 77%. This makes it the number one producer of biomass on earth. Wood from most trees registers around 60% cellulose and obviously takes much longer to mature. Hemp can grow from germination to maturity in 3 to 4 months and produces around 5 tons of dry fiber stalk and 10 tons of biomass per acre. The last smoking gun is that hemp can be grown over vast portions of the earth’s land surfaces. It can grow anywhere from China’s temperate forested mountains to Mexico’s arid deserts to Canada’s cool farmland. (It grows best in warm, humid areas with over 25 inches of rain but only requires a bare minimum of 10 inches and a temperate climate.)What does all of this mean for hemp’s value to the human race? First, hemp could become an answer for languishing farmers around the world. With so many different uses and the ability to replenish vital nutrients to the soil rather than strip them, hemp can make the difference between bankruptcy and prosperity. Second, hemp could be part of the answer to petroleum dependance for everything from plastics to fuel.
Third, hemp could easily replace our lust for cotton textiles. Cotton uses 50% of the U.S.’s pesticides, damages the soil, uses over twice as much water to grow and produces less than half the crop that an equivalent acre of hemp will produce. Fourth, by being burned or converted to ethanol, alcohol, etc. hemp could help significantly lower carbon emissions, as well as providing a carbon sink as a planted crop. Widespread use of hemp could also save forests and other endangered carbon sinks.
Fifthly, hemp has great value as a source of nutrition for humans and an even greater potential as feed for animals. Lastly, hemp could have a major impact in our growing construction industry by replacing or supplementing everything from fiberboard to concrete. Each of these uses could easily be enough to make hemp a valuable crop. Combined they make it impossible to ignore, yet ignore we do. For the next several days I will highlight each of these glorious possibilities one at a time.