The Environmental Impact of Hemp Cultivation

Hemp is a dioecious plant that belongs to the cannabis family, grown for fiber and edible seeds. This plant is used to make a wide variety of products, including health products, rope, natural remedies, soap, fabric, foods, and many more. Hemp products can provide relief for a variety of health issues from anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and heart problems to sleep problems and respiratory conditions such as asthma. Particularly, hemp seeds are known for their nutritional benefits, skin therapy, and digestion benefits, while hemp oil has a multitude of nutritional and therapeutic benefits. Hemp has been cultivated for over 10,000 years, and while it has great economic significance, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the cultivation of this plant. Many people tend to have a negative opinion about hemp and its products due to its association with cannabis. However, the cultivation of hemp plant brings along many economic benefits. Furthermore, it is one of the most promising sustainable resources.

History of Hemp Growth

Hemp was one of the earliest crop plants, grown in some part of Asia since about 8000 B.C.E. Throughout history, hemp continued to spread across civilizations, including Europe, Africa, and South America. Its applications evolved from making ropes and fabric to paper and sailcloth and medical therapy. North America was introduced to hemp in the early 1600s. During this time, American farmers were legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop. Hemp production in the U.S. continued to flourish throughout the 1700s and 1800s, whereby it was used for making paper, oil, clothing, sailcloth ropes, and lamp fuels. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made hemp illegal. The act imposed strict regulations on the cultivation of industrial hemp. Hemp cultivation was prohibited during the war on drugs, whereby the U.S. federal government aimed at reducing illegal drug trade in the United States.

The U.S. Farm Bill

The U.S. Farm Bill officially titled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, is a multiyear piece of legislation that governs a wide range of agricultural and food programs. The bill is passed roughly once every five years, and it covers all affairs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including farming, agricultural conservation, rural development, food assistance, horticulture, crop insurance, trade, bioenergy, domestic nutrition assistance, forestry, and many other programs. The bill has a huge impact on what kinds of foods are grown, how food is grown, and farming livelihoods. The first farm bill was signed into law in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt, and subsequent versions have been enacted ever since. Generally, the farm bill is the tool used by the federal government to shape agricultural and food policy in the U.S. Every five years; the farm bill comes up for legislative renewal whereby it’s debated and passed by the congress and signed into law by the President. The most recent farm bill was enacted into law in December 2018 and expires in 2023.  Typically, the farm bill makes amendments or suspensions to provisions of permanent law or preceding temporary agricultural acts. With respect to hemp, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 removed hemp that has a THC level of less than 0.3% THC from Schedule 1 controlled substances, making it an ordinary agricultural commodity.  The bill legalized the cultivation of hemp and sale of products derived from hemp.

Industrial Hemp

Industrial hemp is a strain of the cannabis family that is cultivated for the industrial uses of its derived products. The legalization of hemp opens up several previously unobtainable incentives for hemp cultivation. Under the current regulations, Section 280E, which prevented businesses from working with Schedule I or Schedule II drugs is a thing of the past. Besides, hemp farmers are now eligible for farm tax benefits and R&D tax credits. Furthermore, eligible equipment is available for immediate 100% bonus until January 2024. Similarly, Sec.179 provides for full immediate deductions of eligible equipment. Of course, there is also improved access to banking and borrowing.

Growing Hemp Regulations

The rules of growing hemp tend to vary with different states. However, the general rule of growing hemp is that a grower should not produce plants that exceed the acceptable THC level of 0.5%. Growers are expected to use reasonable efforts to grow the plant such that it does not test at more than 0.5% THC on a dry weight basis. Regarding pesticide use, the EPA has approved 10 pesticides that can be used for hemp production. If a person is considering growing hemp, all they need is to get a license from the Home Office.

What Other Products Are Produced From Industrial Hemp?

The products produced from industrial hemp include hemp oil, hemp seed, fiber, and CBD oil. Some of the products that can be made from industrial hemp include; CBD Tinctures, textiles, sunscreen, beer, shoes, hemp seed milk,  shoes, clothes, hempcrete, protein powder, paper, diapers, and supercapacitors.

Can hemp products replace products that have negative environmental impacts?

Hemp has been proven to be an eco-friendly alternative to some of the world’s most polluting products. First, hemp products can be recycled into many useful products. Hemp requires little water, making it a more sustainable choice than cotton. Besides, it can thrive without pesticides, unlike soybeans and cotton. It is also a sustainable fuel source and a durable building material. Hemp plastic provides a biodegradable alternative to oil-based plastics. In addition to being eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic does not contain the chemicals found in oil-based plastics. Hempcrete—a type of concrete made from hemp is a great alternative to concrete, which contributes to carbon emissions. Generally, hemp is used to make a variety of biodegradable materials, including fabrics, plastic polymers, building products, wood, paper, and even car components, which are all great alternatives to products that have a negative environmental impact.

Environmental Impact of Industrial Hemp

Is hemp growing sustainable?
Hemp is one of the most sustainable plants, and this is the main reason its popularity is ever surging. The plant has a fast growth rate and grows very tightly spaced. This translates to a higher yield from the same space and decreased land use. In addition, it is used to produce a wide variety of biodegradable materials, which means it is the answer to the CO2 emissions that are contributing to climate change. Hemp uses less water to grow than trees or traditional crops. This plant can irrigate itself naturally; hence it requires less than one-third of the water that traditional crops require. Therefore, growing industrial hemp puts less strain on our natural resources.
When it comes to soil quality, hemp helps to regenerate the soil. The leaves and other parts of the hemp plant are packed with nutrients. As the plant matures, the leaf matter falls to the ground and decomposes to replenish the soil. The deep and extensive root network of the hemp plant can help to hold the soil together and prevent erosion. Hemp is not only good for the soil, it also helps to replenish the air by absorbing carbon and other harmful toxins. When compared with traditional crops such as soy and corn, industrial hemp is the real deal when it comes to sustainability. Traditional crops require a significant amount of water to grow, take a lot of space, and require the use of pesticides.

Economic Benefits of Industrial Hemp

Industrial hemp provides great economic opportunities for American farmers in terms of new industries and job creation. Currently, at least 25 states in the U.S. have hemp farming industries. Due to the plant’s many uses, the job demand for the hemp industry is expected to double by 2022. There’s a demand for transporters, accountants, cultivators, salespeople, insurance experts, and many more. In 2019, the hemp industry already boasted sales worth $1.2 billion in 2019 and experts project that the industry will be worth $10.3 billion by 2024.

As already mentioned, industrial hemp is used to make a wide range of products, from paper to fabrics to auto manufacturing products and beauty products. The hemp industry covers many needs, and by being a sustainable raw material in the production of these products, hemp will lead to the creation of new industries. From textile industries to animal feeds to building material manufacturing, new industries are expected to crop up. Since it’s a cheaper alternative to wood, industries that use wood as a raw material are expected to flourish as they can lower their operating costs. Of course, this will translate to an increase in the U.S. GDP.
Being a versatile plant, industrial hemp growing has a symbiotic relationship with a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, food and beverage production, medicine, cosmetics, and auto manufacturing. Other products that can be created from industrial hemp include wood stain, varnish, chemical cleaners, beverages, animal feeds, and batteries.  
Generally, industrial hemp is a great plant with diverse uses. From medicinal benefits to therapeutic use and industrial use, hemp is a great alternative to traditional crops.  Its legalization in the U.S. opens up many economic opportunities for farmers and industries that use the plant as a raw material.

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