ECOLOGY OF HEMP
Hemp is more eco-friendly by its very nature and it can be used for a very wide variety of products - from foodstuffs to bio-fuels to construction materials to paper products to textiles. And new uses are continually unfolding as we come to better understand the potential of hemp. Industrial hemp advocates propose using hemp as a replacement for wood and cotton because it offers products of comparable or superior quality while reducing or eliminating the ecologically negative characteristics involved in their processing.
Comparing Hemp with Wood
As a replacement for wood products, hemp offers many environmentally friendly benefits. Hemp achieves better land utilization as it yields three to eight tons of fiber per acre, which is four times the yield of the average forest. An acre of hemp produces 4.1 times as much paper as an acre of trees. Hemp can also be harvested every year while trees take 20 years or more to grow to harvest. Since hemp builds topsoil, it can be grown on the same acre of land year after year. Many acres of forest could be saved by industrial cultivation of hemp for paper alone.
The replacement of wood fiber by hemp-based products can save forests for wildlife habitat, watersheds, recreational areas, oxygen production, and carbon sequestration to help in reducing global warming. Many construction products now made out of wood could be made from hemp. Beams, studs, posts, oriented strand board, and medium density fiberboard made from hemp would be stronger and lighter because of hemp's long fibers. Hemp fiberboard has been manufactured that is twice as strong as wood-based fiberboard.
Unlike wood, hemp is low in lignin, which means that hemp can be pulped using fewer chemicals. Hemp can also be bleached using a gentle hydrogen peroxide rather than toxic chlorine compounds and dioxins which are generated as a by-product of paper production. Many of these toxic chemical waste products from wood pollute our streams, rivers and lakes.
The discharge of heavy metals and toxins like sulfuric acid and dioxin could be reduced by 60 to 80 percent by making the switch to hemp pulp. Hemp can be made into fine quality paper. The long fibers in hemp allow hemp paper to be recycled several times more than wood-based paper. Hemp paper is of the highest quality, resists decomposition, and does not yellow as it ages when an acid-free process is used. Hemp paper is more durable and will last for ages. For these reasons, hemp paper is often used in Europe for bibles.
Comparing Industrial Hemp with Cotton
Hemp has few natural predators and it grows well without herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. The production of cotton, on the other hand, consumes about 25% of all pesticides used on American crops. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In developing countries, where regulations are less stringent, the amount of herbicides and insecticides and their toxicity is often greater than those used in the U.S. on cotton crops.
Industrial hemp is also a very land efficient crop. On a per acre basis, hemp yields 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax without the need for toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Hemp bast fibers are one of the longest natural soft fibers. They are longer and stronger than cotton with eight times the tensile strength and four times the durability of cotton. Hemp fibers are also more absorbent, more mildew-resistant, and more insulative than cotton. This means that hemp will keep you warmer in winter and cooler in summer than cotton. Hemp is more effective at blocking the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
The nature of hemp fibers makes them more absorbent to dyes, which coupled with hemp's ability to better screen out ultraviolet rays, means that hemp material is less prone to fading than cotton fabrics. Like cotton, hemp can be made into a variety of fabrics, including high quality linen. When blended with materials such as cotton, linen, and silk, hemp provides a sturdier, longer lasting product, while maintaining quality and softness.
Land Use and Hemp
Hemp has a deep root system that helps to prevent soil erosion, removes toxins, provides a disease break, and aerates the soil to the benefit of future crops. Hemp grows well in a variety of climates and soil types. It is naturally resistant to most pests, precluding the need for pesticides. It grows tightly spaced, out-competing any weeds, so herbicides are not necessary. It also leaves a weed-free field for a following crop.
The cultivation of industrial hemp also combats the growing problem of topsoil erosion. In the U.S., more than five billion tons of precious agricultural topsoil is lost each year due to erosion. Hemp is the ideal farm crop to counter this loss. The fine root systems and the long tap roots of hemp plants will penetrate the soil for three to seven feet, helping to anchor and protect soil from runoff and erosion.
Hemp builds and replenishes topsoil and subsoil structures. Hemp plants shed their leaves throughout the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture which allows hemp to be more drought-resistant. Hemp leaves the soil in excellent condition for any succeeding crop, especially when weeds may otherwise be troublesome.