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An Ecological Study
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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Hemp, the most promising plant for fiber production in central United States produces a strong and durable fiber. The hemp fiber was an important colonial material used to produce homespun fabrics and ropes, today it can be used to produce many things from paper to reinforced plastics. The long fibers of the hemp plant help make hemp the most versatile fiber. Hemp is grown annually and has been shown to improve the condition of the land by improving the soil quality, destroying weeds, and not exhausting the fertility of the soil. (Dewey, 308-11). Hemp played an important part in the fiber industry until the turn of the century, the promise of the plant was overlooked and the fiber as an ecological advantage was forgotten. The hemp plant has an environmental advantage over trees and the possibility of the fiber in the industry of paper needs a closer look.
Hemp spread due to its fiber and medical properties, traveling to many countries around the world and eventually into the United States. The history of the fiber hemp begins in China for textiles, the fiber then worked its way into India, Europe, South America, and finally to North America. (Dewey, 295-303). The first seeds of hemp came from Europe, but crops from China soon took the place of European hemp plants due to them maturing quicker and having a better more desirable fiber type. The history of hemp in the United States can be seen in many states from Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, and California. "Practically all the hemp grown in the United States is from seed produced in Kentucky." (Dewey, 302). Kentucky was the main producer of hemp in colonial times. The effects the plant has to the land can be seen in Kentucky and the other states that produced hemp during this time.
Hemp seeds spread with western expansion and hemp in the United States flourished. James Allen creates the image of how plentiful the hemp fields were in the history of the United States. "Hemp in Kentucky in 1782-[was an] early landmark in the history of the soil, and of the people." (4). As cultivation expanded the need for hemp was increased due to the World Wars, the Kentucky landscape was painted green and the industry began a revival and the settlers profited. "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky" shows how profitable hemp fiber. "Hemp manufacture was the source of wealth for many pioneer families of the Bluegrass Region." (403). The pioneer families carried seeds of hemp plants into new regions of the Unites States and the plant reemerged in many different settlements as a cheap, profitable fiber. Alan Haney, author of "An Ecological Study of Naturalized Hemp(Cannabis sativa L.) in East-Central Illinois, states the environmental benefits of hemp plants and their effects to the soil in the Midwest. Within this study, he documents the soil condition and states that the quality of the soil in the United States is most favorable to the plant:
Hemp has spread with the settlers and the plants and their effects on the land can still be seen today, overtaking the plants in bar-ditches. The plants have survived years of neglect but still flourish in the environment with little outside help. This shows the hardiness of the plant and how favorable the soil in the Midwest is to produce hemp.
Cultural patterns are stabilized in the upper Midwest, it is unlikely that hemp abundance is increasing significantly. The only exception that we have observed are found in the way of invasion along recently completed highways or improved roads and drainage channels where mowing or spraying may help maintain persistence stands. (22)
World War II brought an increase in production of the hemp crop due to cotton being overproduced. Cotton, a fiber crop, degrades the soil and the fertility of the land. The Unites States Department of Agriculture supported the revival of the hemp industry to take the place of cotton fibers. The government built refineries, rented machinery to the farmer, and bought the hemp fibers from the farmer. The government revived the industry solely for the production of the inexpensive, environmentally safe, fiber and the industry solely survived on the governments funding. The government created a Grower's Hemp contract and the grower agreed to plant a specific number of plants, follow the government's rules, and only sell to the government mills. The government also constructed the Federal Marijuana Tax, which taxed the grower and licensed it under state laws. (Garland, 128-130). As wartime consumption ended, funding from the government ended and so did the want for fibers other than cotton, this lead to a decline in use of the hemp fiber. "The agricultural problem is not hard, for the farmer ceases growing hemp with the expiration of his contract." (Garland, 129). The plant started a downward decent and its environmental and fiber qualities became forgotten. Conrad suggests the government lost many important documents that explained the complex machinery they issued during the war:
Much of the excitement and innovation that marked the U.S. hemp renaissance in the early 20th century was deliberately crushed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and its brief revival during the Second World War was wrapped in a cloak of national security, then quietly laid to rest. During these two phases hemp was processed into the widest range of products; paper and textiles, plastics, fiberboard, auto parts, and energy to power mills while generating a 50% energy surplus. (Conrad, 293)
The machinery blueprints were forgotten and the once investment opportunity of hemp was quickly converted into being illegal by the government after the war.
The government has been documenting the plant hemp as an environmentally safe plant, due to its ability to regenerate and re-structure soils into fertile fields. They show the promise of the hemp plant as early as 1913. The United States Department of Agriculture printed "Hemp", an informational study on the history, growth habits, and harvesting of the plant for fiber. They show that the plant hemp improves the quality of the soil and extracts weeds. The government suggests use of hemp as a buffer crop produces the best effects, by improving the quality of the land for other crops. The research shows that if proper supplies of hemp were assured, the plant as a fiber would expand into the market. The United States Department of Agriculture also investigates the use of hemp fibers in paper, with bulletin 404, "The Manufacture of Paper from Hemp Herds". The bulletin examines the fiber as a substitute for wood-pulp paper production and shows it being cheaper than wood pulp and producing crops annually making four times the amount of paper-pulp compared to tree production. Every aspect of paper production is discussed in an investigation justifying the character of the material is formed. The government physically tested the paper, the fiber, and the plant concluding that hemp benefits the land environmentally, and the people economically. The production of the hemp fiber lessens the use of established forests for paper-pulp. The government has shown many benefits of hemp production and as a fiber to produce paper since 1916.
The use of paper products has increased during the past few years and the need for non-wood pulp paper is a possibility for the future. The paper industry destroys many forests of trees in the process of making pulp. Trees that are grown for the exclusive benefit of paper production, take many years for the tree to be at the right stage to be able to produce pulp from it. The benefits of hemp are that the plant only takes a year and produces four times the amount of paper than from trees. (Bulletin 404). The United States government issues a bulletin for farmers on the benefits and profits of producing hemp for paper in 1916. Since then, Americans were not able to mass-produce hemp and the study was forgotten. In 2001, Green Field Company started using hemp as a non-wood fiber for paper and paneling. The company shows the possibilities of hemp fibers and proposes the production of hemp the future of paper production. They show a need for new fibers to produced paper with less of a cost. The profit the company receives for hemp fiber papers after shortly its introduction to the Green Field Paper Company shows the increase in the want for the fiber. (17). Other companies also see the benefits of hemp and hemp production for many different products like plastics and reinforcements for car parts. (Mapleston, 74). The oil from the plants seeds can be used to make a cleaner running engine with less harmful fumes. The possibilities of the hemp fibers are seen, and a demand for products with hemp is at their high.
A closer look needs to be made on the fiber, hemp, and its possibilities in the United States market. The fibers from the plant show promise, as seen in many authors' works, Dewey, Garland, Allen, and Conrad. Currently the fiber production is illegal in the United States, but laws need to be questioned. Canada questioned the law prohibiting the people to produce hemp and due to the want for the fiber in the market, the Canadian government has recently legalized the production of hemp. The government shows mass profits from the products produced using hemp and materials that are made better with the help of hemp fibers. The want for hemp fibers should be looked at by the United States government and the legalization of hemp in the United States could equal mass profits for the States who grew hemp. The want for products with hemp fibers can be seen in the paper, plastic, automotive, clothing, and fiber industry in general. The use of hemp for paper can be seen even in 1916, with the governments bulletin, "The Manufacture of Paper from Hemp Herds". Conrad suggests in "Hemp from Today into Tomorrow," that hemp:
My years of research indicates that restoring the commercial access to hemp will not be an overnight miracle cure- all for society's ills; but intelligently developing hemp and other sustainable recourses with appropriate technology will help us find long term solutions to many of our pressing environmental, economics and social problems (289).
If companies are able to mass-produce hemp for products the environmental benefits of hemp plant offers should be reason enough to question the present laws that are placed on hemp. My focus is on the environmental benefits hemp offers to the land and the ecological benefits hemp-pulp will have on the paper industry by lessening the reliance on paper from trees. The quality of hemp were documented by the government and soon forgotten, but a closer look needs to be made on the factors concerning the legalization of hemp production within the United States.
Allen, James. "The Reign of Law: A Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields." New York: The MacMillan Company, 1900.
Anonymous. "Profitable companies rely on renewable feedstocks." BioCycle 42.5 Emmaus (May 2001): 15-17.
Conrad, Chris. "Hemp: From Today Into Tomorrow." Hemp Today. Ed. Ed Rosenthal. Oakland, California: Quick American Archives, 1994. 289-95.
Dewey Lyster. "Hemp." Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1913. Washington Government Printing Office, (1914): 283-345.
Garland, John. "Hemp; A Minor American Fiber Crop." Economic Geography 22.2 (Apr. 1946): 126-32.
Haney, Alan, and Benjamin B. Kutscheid. "An Ecological Study of Naturalized Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in East-Central Illinois." American Midland Naturalist 93.1 (1975): 1-24.
Jenkins, Phil. "Field of Opportunity." Canadian Geographic 119.2 Ottawa.
(Mar/Apr 1999): 58-65.
Mapleston, Peter. "Auto Makers see Strong Promise in Natural Fiber Reinforcements." Modern Plastics 76.4 NewYork: (Apr. 1999). 73- 76.
Merrill, Jason. "The Manufacture of Paper from Hemp Hurds." Bulletin 404 of the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture. Washington D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1916.
Oliver, John. "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky." The Journal of Southern History 17.3 (Aug. 1951): 402-404.
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