It’s 1632, and the first citizens of the colony of Virginia are settling in to life on a new continent. A law has just been enacted by the Virginia Assembly—all farmers must devote a portion of their fields to growing hemp.
This may have been the birth of hemp in America, but hemp cultivation was hardly a new idea. Going back at least 5,000 years, hemp was grown across continents and cultures, made into a variety of materials that allowed civilization to grow and flourish.
For many of us, hemp may seem like a new trend. The reason we’re dusty on our hemp history starts with The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which heavily taxed the sale of cannabis products in the U.S., including hemp. While this didn’t stop hemp production entirely, it did discourage many farmers from continuing to grow the crop. Then, in the 1970s, all forms of cannabis were criminalized in the U.S., making it illegal to grow hemp here.
Now, hemp is making a comeback, with significant potential to support the environment, industry, and our economy. A 2017 report by the Hemp Business Journal estimated that the U.S. hemp industry will reach $1.8 billion in sales by 2020.
Hemp provides an opportunity for farmers, notably those on small family farms, to create a profitable enterprise. Smaller farms are disappearing rapidly across the U.S. In areas where farming has historically represented a significant portion of the local economy, this can be devastating. For states like Kentucky, which has long grown tobacco but is moving away from cultivating the crop, hemp is an economically viable alternative.
Ecologically, hemp can be grown in a variety of locations, can be densely planted together to yield more per acre than other crops, and is resistant to weeds, so farmers don’t have to spend as much time and money to eliminate the weeds. It is also naturally pest resistant, so no pesticides are needed. And, hemp requires less water to grow—about 700 gallons per 2.2 pounds of hemp, versus 5,000 gallons to produce the same amount of cotton. That’s a significant savings for our planet, our farmers, and consumers.
A major reason that hemp is increasingly popular is due to the rapidly expanding market for CBD products. Though still relatively young, the industry continues to grow at a fast pace, with consumers turning to CBD as an alternative to prescription medications. Hemp is rich in CBD, which people are using to find relief from conditions like seizures, chronic pain, anxiety, sleeplessness, and more.
But even if the CBD market were to drop off, farmers won’t be left hanging. Hemp has numerous other uses as an environmentally friendly alternative to many products currently in use. Hemp can replace materials like cotton, lumber, concrete and plastics, all of which take a toll on our environment to produce. Building materials made with hemp can often be less expensive than their traditional counterparts, which could encourage growth in the construction sphere as well.
Another use for hemp? Fuel. If grown on a large enough scale, hemp could be a significant source of clean, renewable energy, reducing our dependence on foreign imports and fossil fuel sources.
See how hemp cultivation is already helping American farmers reconnect to history and the land in the video at right.
Bottom line: hemp is an opportunity for farmers to stay in business and for new agricultural businesses to start, creating more jobs for Americans and providing a raw material that can be crafted into an amazing number of resources, all right here on U.S. soil. Let’s get our economy going with hemp!