After 80 years in the wilderness, Hemp may finally have its day.
Industrial Hemp (cannabis sativa L) was one of humanity’s earliest tilled crops, with examples found going back over 12,000 years. It was used for just about everything … food, oil, clothing, rope, building materials, medicine, paper, bedding, animal fodder … modern techniques can add products like biodegradable plastics to that.
Hemp was a major player in agriculture and manufacturing up until the 1930s. A group of American industrialists saw an opportunity to get marijuana banned as a drug, and Industrial Hemp along with it. They wanted Americans to get back into alcohol after Prohibition, and tobacco, both of which were suffering from the popularity of marijuana. DuPont wanted everyone to use nylon rope and synthetic fabrics. William Randolph Hearst wanted people using his tree-based paper. Cotton was king, but required lots of pesticides, so companies like Monsanto got involved. This group produced propaganda films like Reefer Madness. Marijuana was characterised as a gateway drug to heroin and cocaine.
Of course, where America goes, Australia follows, and hemp was soon banned here, too, along with marijuana.
To be clear, Hemp is NOT POT. Marijuana (cannabis indica) is a female cousin, bred for its medicinal and recreational properties. They look almost identical. The main difference is that Industrial Hemp has negligible THC, the psychoactive ingredient. You would have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole to get high, if you survived! Banning hemp because it looks like marijuana is like banning powdered sugar because it looks like cocaine.
Can Industrial Hemp save the world? Sounds far fetched, but it is a superhero of a plant. It can be grown sustainably and responsibly, with less water, no pesticides or herbicides, no special equipment or care, and can provide food, clothing, shelter, fuel and medicine. It grows like a weed, because it is one!
The value chain for Industrial Hemp is enormous. Each plant provides three parts: The seed, the outside fibre and the woody core of the stalk. Each stalk can grow several metres tall in 16 weeks. The seed currently fetches three times the price of wheat.
Hemp biodiesel and hemp ethanol can run our cars. Hemp seed and husk are high protein superfoods. Hemp paper is durable and recyclable without bleach. Hemp fabric is more durable, breathable and absorbent than cotton, grown with less water and no chemicals. Hemp plastics are completely biodegradable. Hemp beer is growing in popularity again. Hemp milk is an excellent high protein, hypoallergenic alternative to dairy. The medical applications of hemp oil (CBD) are becoming well known.
Building blocks made from Hempcrete can last for hundreds of years and will continue to absorb and sequester carbon. Hemp can also make remarkable particle board and insulation.
What does Industrial Hemp have to offer the Otways? Well, considering that much of the region has been under plantation timber, much of which is now maturing, hemp is the ideal replacement.
In one year, a single hectare of hemp can offer the same amount of pulp for paper and composite as four hectares of trees in 20 years. Do the maths.
Of course, the other benefits are that Hemp rehabilitates the soil and it requires less water. It can grow almost anywhere. You will still get a crop of seed that can be made into any number of things. Hemp absorbs and sequesters more C02 per hectare than trees. And much less wear and tear on the roads, as hemp is much easier to harvest and transport. Geelong is slated to be a major processing centre for Industrial Hemp.
There are thousands of distinct uses for Industrial hemp. Now that it can be grown in Australia as a food source, as well as the multitude of other uses, here’s hoping it might achieve the status it used to enjoy, plus the new possibilities the 21st century has to offer.
Randall Berger is a writer, a Civil Celebrant and a compulsive blogger.
He plans his tree change to be to Gellibrand.
For more information on Hemp, visit one of his blogs: https://www.facebook.com/IndustrialHempAustralia/