...: HEMP SAVES WORLD (NOT!) (fwd)

Thomas W. Kimmerer populus at pc.jaring.my
Sat Feb 3 20:07:04 EST 1996


It seems to me that this thread, like so many discussions about hemp, misses
some very important points, and glosses over some others:

1.  Hemp should be regarded simply as one of a large number of potential
fiber plants to fill our growing needs.  Arguments about drugs and legality
are periperhal issues, as industrial hemp is not a drug plant.

2.  If we so regard hemp, then we should compare it with all other possible
fiber plants, and make some rational decisions about which are best for a
given site.

3.  Trees should also be regarded in this fashion.  It is silly to think of
hemp as "saving the forest."  This is cognate to eating soybeans to "save the
corn."  Trees can be grown as a crop, just as any other crop.  The choice
that needs to be made by society is to switch from natural forests as a major
fiber source, to the production of fiber in plantations, regardless of the
crop being considered. This is presently occuring in nearly every country.
Taken in this light, efforts such as the Earth Island Institute's Tree Free
Paper campaign seem misguided at best.

4.  Many claims are made that hemp is more productive than trees.  This is
based on old USDA data.  It does not hold up well to scrutiny.  The data are
not based on economic factors, but only on crude yields.  They do not take
into account inputs and labor.  By this I mean that we need to consider the
costs of fertilizer, and the labor costs of separating the fiber from the
nonfibrous parts.  Since hemp contains both long phloem fibers and short
xylem fibers, this separation is problematic, though there are machines which
can deal with it.  A comparison needs to be made between modern plantation
trees and modern hemp production methods, and this has not been done.

5.  Hemp is suitable only for rich sites, on well drained loamy soils (you
can look this up in any of the standard fiber crop textbooks).  Even there,
fairly heavy fertilization is required.  Trees, on the other hand, are very
well suited to poor sites.  Hemp will have a difficult time competing with
trees in economic terms if the land costs of production are high.

6.  In my home state of Kentucky, and my present residence in Malaysia, there
are large amounts of very poor quality, unproductive land.  Rich, fertile
sites are at a premium and are already in use for crops with a higher value
than fiber crops.  These poor quality sites are those best suited to fiber
production.  We need to identify those fiber plants best suited to these
kinds of sites.

Comments on this long post are welcome.

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