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Industrial Hemp: A New Beginning

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NAIHC.org - In a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the North American Industrial Hemp Council offers detailed recommendations designed to:

  • give American farmers an environmentally friendly non-food crop which can improve crop rotations and rural economic development,

  • give American businesses a domestic fiber for environmentally friendly uses ranging from car interior panels and building materials to food products and biofuels.

     

  • give American consumers the full range of industrial hemp products at lower cost since the raw material will be home-grown rather than imported.

Industrial Hemp: A New Beginning

submitted to

United States Department of Agriculture

Drug Enforcement Administration

United States Health and Human Services

by the

North American Industrial Hemp Council, Inc. 

 

Executive Summary

For centuries industrial hemp (hereinafter referred to as hemp) has been grown commercially around the world. History is replete with accounts of the many vital uses of its fiber and oilseed. Paper, fuel, building material, and clothing are most widely known. The following materials sketch out a possible way forward for growing industrial hemp in the United States, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government agencies.

After concerns began to surface in the United States in the 1930's, restrictions intended to eliminate marijuana production and consumption were enacted that eventually led to the disappearance of hemp as a crop. A short revival of the crop during World War II for essential war materials delayed this demise until the early 1950's. Also significant was the introduction of synthetic fiber and other petroleum based products into the market place.

Significant new interest in hemp is now evident throughout the World including the United States where it is still legal to import the fiber and oilseeds and products if low level or zero THC is present. Confusion exists about the differences between hemp and its sister plant marijuana, which has high levels of the psychoactive drug ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Industrial research and a report by the United Nations point to a future shortage of fiber in the world. Interest in fiber for construction materials, concrete reinforcement, industrial and medical filters, automotive body panels and parts, electric circuit boards, paper, cardboard products and carpet are only a few. Fiber strength and durability, light weight characteristics, energy concerns and the ability to be composted and returned to our bio­based ecosystem are all important reasons for the renewed interest. Another underlying reason is that this annual fiber crop relieves the pressure and concern for cutting trees.

Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, hemp provides farmers and America with new economic and environmental opportunities. Over 60 million acres of land in the United States are "set-aside" in a variety of ways due to an abundant capacity to produce food crops.

New non-food crops can provide market-place income for farmers, re-build fragile soils, and provide rotation for food-crop acres, which reduces the need for chemicals to control pests and disease. It also creates a new localized industry and infrastructure for processing fiber into value added products.

In order to re-establish this hemp industry, a carefully planned and gradual series of steps must be taken. A research plan must be initiated to modify the hemp plant. Such studies will be done using available hemp strains to reduce the THC level below the 0.3% concentration now accepted in western nations, and to physically modify the plant, such as its leaf shape, so that it cannot be confused with marijuana. These modifications will take at least five years to achieve. Fortunately, there are private parties now ready to fund such research studies. Knowledge about what varieties to grow, how best to grow it, where the markets exist, and the products and market structure also need to be researched more fully and developed.

Specific acres of production will need to be grown by farmers with existing contracts with end-users of fiber based end products. In many cases there will be joint efforts between end-users and groups of farmers to produce fiber and process it into value-added products for industrial use.

Following is a detailed background and proposal to implement such a program in the United States for hemp, by and between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

 

U.S.D.A. ROLE FOR INITIATING THE HEMP PROGRAM
 
  1. Re-schedule Hemp Discuss and arrange with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) the re-scheduling of industrial hemp as a non-narcotic plant for agricultural cultivation and for the production of industrial products. As in Canada and elsewhere, no fencing or other monitoring devices should be required on the fields where hemp is grown.xxThe present DEA requirements – a 10 foot high reinforced chain link fence with barbed wire top and a contact monitoring system, 24-hour surveillance system around the outside perimeter, motion-detection system along the inner perimeter of the fence and 24-hour lighting, among other conditions – are both costly and biologically counter-productive for growing hemp. Since hemp is not psychoactive (Bocsa and Karus, 1998) these requirements are unnecessary.

  2. Seed Stock Acquisition Establish a protocol to acquire hemp seeds for use in the field testing program. Dr. Paul Mahlberg and others should be contacted to determine what germplasm exists in the United States and elsewhere.

  3. USDA should establish Germplasm Bank. It is important that the USDA develop a germplasm collection of hemp strains to document and use in seed trials in the United States. At present Dr. Paul Mahlberg has a germplasm collection of nearly 200 strains of Cannabis which he accumulated over many years of research on Cannabis.

  4. The USDA Seed Repository at Fort Collins, CO does not have viable hemp seeds. The one accession found in the Repository was shown to be non-viable.

  5. Ditchweed Discuss and arrange with the DEA that they collect ditchweed seed in several states, including IL, WI and ND. Analyses by a government-contracted laboratory (EISholy and Ross, 1998) have shown that most ditchweed contains very low amounts of, or no, THC (Table 1). In the Table they contrast the THC content of ditchweed with marijuana, sinsemilla and Thai sticks among numerous samples. They divided the samples into 'average', 'lowest' and 'highest' groupings. Note that the lowest concentration of THC in ditchweed ranges from 0.01 to 0%, indicating for our purposes that certain ditchweed collections will be an important source of genic material for development of hemp strains with low (below 0.2%) THC concentrations. In contrast, marijuana can contain up to 29.86% THC. Unclear, however, is their definition of marijuana which can contain 0% THC. They did not define some of their terms.

Ditchweed germplasm is especially important in our program because these plants have adapted to the local daylength regime. Many ditchweed populations in most areas appear to be remnants of the pre-1950 hemp farms, as indicated by their low THC concentration. Importantly, these populations are most valuable to our hemp program as a source of germplasm. They have grown unattended for many years, have adapted to local stressful ecological conditions and have reduced their THC concentration.

 

The occurrence of ditchweed in states south of the 45° latitude, such as in TN, NC, SC, KY, makes these seeds valuable for development of strains to be grown in southern and western states as we expand the hemp program. It will be important to collect seeds from these ditchweed populations as a source of genetic traits for these studies.

Cannabis plant material, categorized by physical description of the samples showing the high and low Δ9-THC concentration is as follows:


Percent by Dry Weight of
Δ9-THC in all Samples analyzed by the Project as of September 30, 1998
 

Average (# of Samples)

 

 

BD

KB

LE

LB

TB

Ditchweed

.35 (185)

.40 (11)

.41 (311)

.36 (1473)

.(0)

Marijuana

5.24(2437)

3.56(9063)

2.57(2484)

2.99(19248)

4.52(2)

Sinsemilla

8.25(1390)

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

40)

Thai Sticks

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

3.74(38)

 

 

Lowest Concentration

 

 

 

 

BD

KB LE

LB

TS

 

 

Ditchweed

.01

.01

.01

.01

.(0)

Marijuana

.06

.03

.01

.00

3.95

Sinsemilla

.10

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

Thai Sticks

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

.05

 

 

Highest Concentration

 

 

 

 

BIZ

KB LE

LB

TS

 

 

Ditchweed

1.31

.95

2.40

.99

.(0)

Marijuana

29.86

16.85

16.83

22.55

5.08

Sinsemilla

33.12

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

Thai Sticks

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

.(0)

8.92



Table 1. Analyses of Cannabis plant material at the School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, MS showing and contrasting the THC content of ditchweed compared .to marijuana, sinsemilla and Thai sticks. Some ditchweed samples contain 0.1 or 0.0% THC and, therefore, can be an important source of genic material for breeding industrial hemp. See text for discussion. They did not define all terms.

 

GROWING HEMP

  • General. We must determine which strains will grow under the climatic and soil conditions of each latitudinal location in the United States. Hemp is a very tolerant plant and grows under diverse cultural conditions. Its tolerance is evident from the presence of persistent residual hemp populations, or ditchweed, along rural roads and rivers in various states, from Vermont to Wisconsin and Virginia to Illinois, where hemp was grown before World War II. It can be cultivated in a variety of well-drained light to heavy soils including sandy, silty or clay loams; heavy clay is least desirable. It can be damaged in standing water, as during prolonged flooding; however, it grows well on floodplain lands. It grows well in a moderate climate having about 25 inches of rain per year, but also grows well under conditions with less or more rainfall.

  • Habitats. Hemp has adapted to a wide range of habitats in different parts of the world. If seeds from these various regions are utilized in our long-term breeding program, along with seeds from local ditchweed populations, we will be able to develop strains that will grow in most farm regions of the United States. Hemp, therefore, will be found to grow more widely geographically in this country than any other fiber crop except trees. We can use this wide range of habitat tolerance and genetic plasticity to develop new hemp strains with selected characteristics.

  • Seeds. The seeds (achenes), several millimeters in diameter, can be sown with standard drill farm equipment. It is sown densely at 200-300 seeds per square meter, or 60-70 lbs. per acre. They germinate rapidly, within a few days, and emerge within 5-6 days under moist conditions. Plants grow rapidly and produce a tap root with numerous lateral roots. The leaves quickly cover the ground with a dense mat which shades out weeds. The growing season varies among the strains, but extends from120-170 days.
  • Nutrient Requirements. Hemp can be grown without fertilizers. However, it would be fertilized for optimal fiber yield. Nutritional studies have been done in Europe in which different combinations of macroelements and microelements were examined to produce maximum yield of hemp fiber. These studies will be consulted for application at each location in this country (Ivanyi, 2000a, b, c; Bocsa and Karus, 1998).

  • Herbicides. Hemp seedlings and young plants grow faster than weeds. The plant leaves quickly overshadow the surrounding ground and suppress weed growth to the extent that emerging weeds quickly die. Herbicides are not necessary.

  • Pesticides. In Europe some insect damage is reported, but it is not widespread. Insects include Hemp Flea, Hemp Borer, and European Corn Borer. It is not known how these will affect monocultures of industrial hemp in our country at this time. Several fungi also attack hemp in Europe. For the most part, European growers use little pesticide on industrial hemp (Bocsa and Karus, 1998).

HARVESTING HEMP

When to Harvest. Plants are harvested shortly before or after flowering of the male plant to obtain maximal yield of fiber. The population of dioecious strains will contain about equal numbers of male and female plants; both flower about the same time. However, the male plants die and begin to degenerate shortly after flowering. Therefore, the crop is harvested shortly before or after the male plants begin flowering to avoid crop losses related to the degeneration of male plants. Breeding studies in the past and present were directed to developing monoecious strains with male and female flowers on the same plant thereby avoiding potential losses related to degenerating male plants and provide greater flexibility for the harvest, and to produce both fiber and seeds with one crop. Mostcountries grow dioecious strains, although some, as France, also cultivate monoecious strains as well.

Yield, Specialty Purposes. Alternative growing and harvesting procedures will yield different quality and quantities of fibers. Thick fibers will be desired for many industrial applications. Fine, soft fibers may be desired for specialized applications as in the textile industry. Dry stem yield in Canada at Hempline Farms, for example, ranges from 2.5 to 4 tons per acre. There are data from Europe that report yields to be as high as 7 tons per acre. One of our long-term objectives will be to learn the growth conditions which maximize the yield of stems with quality fibers.

DAY-LENGTH REGIME

We must determine which strains will grow and mature under the day-length conditions at each of the several pilot test locations. The day-length phenomenon will affect hemp culture in the United States, and we must select and/or develop strains that will mature at the appropriate time in the different latitudinal regions of this country.

SEED SELECTION AND BREEDING PROGRAM

  1. Lower and Remove THC from Plant. This program is committed to the development of hemp strains with lowered THC levels, and a non-detectable level of THC in the longer term. We believe this goal is attainable through a combination of breeding, selection, mutation and biotechnology. It is anticipated that different strains will be grown at the different sites, ND, WI, and IL, and therefore the approaches to attain strains with lowered, or no detectable, THC may differ at each location.

  2. THC in European Strains. Little attention was directed by hemp breeders to reduce the THC concentration in strains grown in individual countries in Europe in past years because hemp is recognized to be non-psychoactive. It is grown openly in fields and there is no illicit harvesting of material from these plants. Thus, there was no need to direct attention to the trace amount of THC in the different cultivated strains.

  3. Inheritance of THC. The concentrations of THC and other cannabinoids are under genetic control. THC may be controlled by several alleles of a gene. Inheritance of THC is discussed in the full Industrial Hemp report in Appendix B.

ADMINISTRATION OF GROWING HEMP

  1. Registration. Hemp growers would be registered to grow this crop following a pattern similar to that employed in Canada and Europe. The USDA will develop guidelines and establish a national protocol for growing this crop, and in cooperation with each state, will designate an agency to manage the program. The appropriate agency is the Farm Services Agency which has offices in each state and most counties.

  2. Grower protocol. The protocol could include the following requirements for each grower:

    • must register for an annual growing permit.

    • must be free of any drug indictment during the past 10 years.

    • must indicate location and number of acres of the crop, including the GPS data.

    • must use certified hemp seed.

    • must agree to allow monitoring of the crop for THC content at any time.

    • may be limited in the number of acres which can be grown.

    • must identify an end-user of the crop.

  1. Seed certification. The USDA will be responsible for seed certification.

  2. Seed development program. During the initial years of this program we will be dependent upon foreign sources for hemp seeds of various strains. At present the greatest diversity is available in Prof. Mahlberg's collection of numerous strains. A seed development program must be established so as to provide domestic sources of seeds.

Seeds in quantity for the initial trial studies in the United States will be obtained from Canada and Europe, and possibly Asia. Strains will be selected from different areas of Europe or Asia which correspond as closely as possible with day-length regimes in the United States. For example, seeds of strains grown in Manitoba will be included among those strains tested in North Dakota, and strains grown in the Hamilton area of Canada will be included among those strains grown in Wisconsin and Illinois.

PILOT STUDY GROWTH PROGRAM IN 3 STATES FOR A 5 YEAR PERIOD

1. Three Locations have been chosen to initiate this program including North Dakota (46-49° latitude) with day-length conditions comparable to southern Manitoba, Wisconsin (42-45° latitude) with day-length conditions comparable to London, Ont. Canada, and Illinois (38-42° latitude) with day-length conditions comparable to Italy and Spain. Hemp will be grown on land of qualified farmers.

2. Objective. The objective is to select one or more strains at each location:

    • which grows well under the local daylength regime and matures in the normal growing season,
    • to reduce the THC level in a strain during the 5 year pilot program,
    • which accumulates the greatest plant dry weight reflected in fiber quantity and quality,
    • which yields an optimum to maximum crop of seeds,
    • and other specifics that may result from initial studies. 

3. Acreage at each location.

    • Year ONE. Allow for 200 acres in each of the three designated states to be planted in two or more locations in the state.

    • Years TWO to FIVE. Gradually expand acreage based upon experience, technology and market pull.

MARKET STRUCTURE

  1. Uses of Hemp. Market industrial uses for hemp fiber are already clearly identified. These markets will grow as fiber becomes available. The specific end uses of hemp fiber vary greatly (Figure 1). And, let us emphasize the insight of the elder Henry Ford who, many years ago, produced a car body made entirely from hemp and sisal cellulosic plastic (Figure 2). Due to the many uses, there will be a need for specific varieties and harvesting/processing specifications. Value added processing of fibers by producers is necessary to expand the hemp fiber industry.

    • Farmers will need to grow different types of fibers for specific industrial markets. In order to provide for stable growth in the hemp fiber industry it is essential to require production and marketing contracts.

  2. Processing Facility. Farmers will need to invest in processing facilities to separate fiber. Industry is interested in a reliable long term supply of a specific quality fiber and will be willing to sign contracts with farmers for their hemp fiber needs.

    • Funds to assist in the establishment of processing facilities in the initial three states should be provided from USDA rural development budgets. It is estimated that the facility would cost approximately $700,000. Such a facility must be the responsibility of a farmer cooperative with participating equity and commitment for industry expansion.
  3. Marketing Order. In order to provide for the orderly growth and oversight of the hemp fiber industry, a marketing order or similar structure needs to be established within the USDA. Such a structure should provide for a Board to help implement and guide the overall program to include a grower/industry self-assessment program. Funds generated by this program will help offset research and development costs for crop and product development.

HEMP ADVISORY BOARD

1. Advisory Board. An Advisory Board should be established to implement the program outlined for hemp. Decisions will need to be made on an on-going basis as to seed, areas of production, program oversight, research needs, and other aspects. Suggestions for the Hemp Advisory Board follow.

2. Composition of Advisory Board. The initial Board should include persons from the following areas of expertise:

  • United States Department of Agriculture (1 person),
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (2 persons),
  • National Institutes of Health (1 person),
  • North American Industrial Hemp Council, Inc. (9 persons), including representatives from producers, processors, researchers, industry, environmentalists and marketing.

 

Figure 1. Hemp stem showing the long fibers of the bark and the woody core.

Figure 2. Henry Ford shows the strength of a unique car body built from hemp and sisal cellulosic plastic, as he strikes it with an axe demonstrating his vision to "grow automobiles from the soil."

 

Download the complete 21-page pdf of Industrial Hemp: A New Beginning.

 

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