The Hemp Plant
Hemp is part of the cannabis family that includes all varieties that contain negligible amounts of THC, the chemical in “marijuana” which is psychoactive and gets you “high.”
The 2018 Farm Bill officially defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
The Cannabis family contains numerous varieties, yet it is most famously known for psychoactive cannabis (marijuana or “weed”). This is the main reason why people confuse the term hemp with marijuana. Hemp actually refers to the industrial variant which is cultivated for its fiber, hurd, and seeds, as well as the other natural healing compounds found in its leaves.
The seed is mainly used in dietary products. Hemp seeds are typically hulled and use in variety of ways. Seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, made into milk, and are even used to make protein powder.
Hemp seeds can also be pressed and made into oil. Hemp seed oil can be used as salad dressing, paint, ink, and is a core ingredient in many body care products
Canada is the biggest producer of hemp seeds with over 84,000 acres licensed for cultivation in 2015. Most of the hemp strains grown in Canada are called Finola. Finola is known for producing the most amount of seeds, but they are very short so can’t be used for their stalk. Over time, more farmers are experimenting with dual use varities which can be used for both seeds and stalks.
THE BAST (FIBER)
When you slice a hemp stalk in half, you’ll see, nestled in a snug hollow tube, a long, string-like band running the length inside. This is hemp’s famous bast fiber. When harvested correctly, the fiber is actually stronger than steel. The stalk and its fiber are used mainly in clothing, construction materials, paper, and more.
Historically, so many different applications have been found for hemp’s stalk. In a 1938 Popular Mechanics article, hemp was stated to be the next ‘billion dollar crop’, as it praised its bafflingly strong fibers. The magazine found there to be more than 25,000 industrial uses for hemp. Applications of hemp stalk include apparel, bags, rope, netting, canvas, and carpet.
China is the world’s biggest producer of hemp stalks, with the government claiming the hemp industry to be over $200M.
THE SHIV (HURD)Often referred to as the woody core, hemp hurd is the soft inner core of the hemp plant stem. It is highly absorbent and rich in cellulose and great thermal and acoustic properties. The hurd can be used in two different forms:
- As untreated and unrefined chunks, it can be used in a wide variety of industrial and everyday products, such as cement, insulation and paper.
- As a form of pulp, it can be used to make biodegradable plastics that can be easily broken down and recycled.
Out of its many applications, hemp concrete (hempcrete) has been gaining a lot of attention globally as a natural substitute to concrete. More houses in Europe and Canada are starting to be built in hempcrete due to its strong insulation, windproof, and low carbon footprint properties.
In addition to hempcrete, hemp hurds are used for animal bedding, biodegradable garden mulch, paper, plastics, and insulation.
The Revival of Hemp
AFTER BEING SHUNNED FOR 40 YEARS, WHY IS HEMP NOW IN THE SPOTLIGHT?
REALIZING THE BENEFITS OF THE MIRACLE CROP
As more people start paying attention to hemp, more facts are shared to demonstrate the power of this plant—hence why it’s often called the “Miracle Crop.” What has really been highlighted is the hemp seed’s nutritional benefits and its fiber’s durability. Hemp has been known to have over 25,000 applications. The key benefit of hemp is that it is such a sustainable and eco-friendly crop as well as being so useful. Hemp will be a key ingredient as we fight global warming and climate change.
PLAYING CATCH UP AFTER LEGALIZATION
In 2018, the United States legalized hemp again, after a few years of experimental hemp growing that began in 2014. However, other countries are still far ahead of us. China has a $200M hemp textile industry and is rapidly expanding into other hemp markets. Europe is utilizing hemp more for industrial purposes and has more advanced hemp building materials. Canada’s hemp industry has exploded in the past decade and its demand continues to grow at 20% per year — ironically, most of this demand comes from the U.S.
AN ECONOMIC FORCE FOR OUR FARMERS AND SMALL BUSINESSES
While several states already have hemp growing programs, others are waiting for the USDA to set official hemp policies for the United States. The U.S. grew 78,176 acres of hemp in 2018, a number expected to increase dramatically once 2019 figures get totaled up and reported. Currently, most hemp in the U.S. is grown for CBD, the popular nutritional supplement with numerous benefits. But with hemp’s huge potential for textiles, food, paper and plastics, and even building material, we expect to see a rapid expansion in both acreage and varieties of hemp grown in the United States.