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Adams County Farm Bureau Agri Newsletter

Posted on June 2, 2000

Industrial Hemp Production

Adams County (Illinois) Farm Bureau Agri Newsletter, June 2000, Vol. 43, Number 6

Quincy, Illinois — Presently, the US imports all of its industrial hemp from Canada and thirty-two other forein nations. This is a product that can be efficiently produced in this country, providing not only an alternative crop, but jobs for American workers. Therefore, we will aggressively pursue actions necessary to require the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to issue permits to US producers allowing the production of industrial hemp.

Note: The following letter is from one of our members is consistent with our policy on this subject.

Friday, May 19, 2000

For American farmers its diversify or die. In the natural world species go extinct when they can’t adapt and change to new conditions or when their strategy for survival rests on too narrow a base. Midwestern agriculture is in a precarious position, in part, because the range of viable crops is so limited. For most farmers corn and soybeans are the only crops left and we all suffer from the overproduction of these. Over the last thirty years little research and development has gone into finding the next super-crops which could revitalize agriculture or send it in new directions. The emphasis has all been on finding ways to genetically modify the short list of existing crops. We now witness the fruits of this alliance between agribusiness and government is the creation of a technology and foodstuffs that the people, in droves, want no part of.

Without question, GMO crops have a place in modern agriculture. However, they have become associated in the minds of many around the world as a vehicle for the centralization of food production into the hands of a few corporate entities. The non-viability of some second generation seed and the patented ownership of primary crop plants has left a bad taste in the mouths of many worldwide. Whatever the merits based on the facts, this negative perception will haunt GMO crops for a long time to come.

Given the uncertainty about GMO, as well as Brazil’s expanding soybean base, American farmers would do well to start looking for new crops. A potential new crop generating interest in many states is industrial hemp. Significantly, the interest in hemp is not coming from agribusiness or government but from the people themselves. There is anxiety in the general public about a changing climate as well as other evidence human activities are overwhelming the Earth’s ability to absorb our impact. Hemp fiber, the strongest natural fiber that can be produced by an annual, monocultured crop plant and one that requires almost no chemicals, has great potential to compete with, and substitute for, a whole host of wood and forest based products, as well as textiles and even foods. A large hemp industry could have a real impact on easing pressures driving worldwide deforestation. Hemp products already have an “environmentally friendly” marketing image.

The human need for fiber is immense but so is hemp’s ability to create it. Planted on a 7 in. row spacing at a density of 200 plants/ sq. yd. (55-65 lbs seed/acre) the common varieties will attain a height of 9 to 15 ft. in 90-100 days. Fiber harvest occurs at or before pollination. In other words, the fiber crop is cut before it goes to seed. Fiber grade is a function of genetics, maturity and density of planting. Planting densities as high as 350 plants/square yard produce a very fine fiber. The planting density and rapid growth make hemp a “smother crop”. Herbicides are unnecessary. Fertilizer needs are 120 lbs of nitrogen, 90 lbs of phosphorus, 90 lbs of potasium per acre. Leaves are dropping during growth and the “retting” process windrows and turns the crop on the ground for three weeks after it is cut to decompose the leaves and soften the stalks. By the time the stalks are baled 60 to 70% of the nutrients have been returned to the soil. The Canadians are getting 3 to 4 tons/acre or 8-12 big round bales weighing 700-750 lbs/bale. Our soils and growing degree days plus improved genetics could produce much higher tonnages. Canadian processors are paying $140-200/ton.

Four states have passed hemp legislation into law — North Dakota, Minnesota, Hawaii and, on May 18th, Maryland. A host of others are looking at it. The Minnesota, Hawaii and Maryland bills establish research projects. Hawaii has planted their first plots. The North Dakota bill states that upon meeting requirements, “any person in this state may plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell, and buy industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) having no more then three-tenths of one percent tetrahydrocannabinol.” This bill, of course, conflicts with federal law which steadfastly refuses to recognize the distinction between hemp and marijuana so it will be a brave North Dakota farmer who plants hemp this year. But it is the proximity of hard-pressed high plains farmers to Canadian developments which led North Dakota to become the first state to enact hemp legislation in April 1999. The Canadians legalized it in 1998.

The Illinois Industrial Hemp Act (SB 1397), drafted by Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, establishes a two year research program at the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University. Last year the legislature approved the appointment of a task force to study the hemp issue. Coordinated by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Industrial Hemp Task Force held meetings and returned a report to the legislature in early January which found great potential for hemp in Illinois and strongly recommended changes in the laws, at both the state and federal levels, recognizing the differences between hemp and marijuana and accepting the 0.3% or less THC standard for hemp. The Illinois Industrial Hemp Act seeks to build on these recommendations. In February it passed the Senate Ag Committee 6 to 0 and the full Senate 49 to 9. In March it passed the House Ag Committee 11 to 4 and was on the agenda to be voted on by the full House before the legislature adjourned in April but was withdrawn at the last minute because of fears election year pressures could prevent its passage. It will be reintroduced next Fall.

A key factor leading to the bill’s withdrawal was the lack of tangible Illinois Farm Bureau support for the measure. The Illinois Farm Bureau officially supports hemp research but a visible lobbying presence was absent in Springfield when it counted. Education is the key to this issue. The Hemp Act seeks to establish the viability, or non-viability, of reintroducing for production in Illinois non-psychoactive varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. A similar situation exists with respect to Papaver somniferum, the poppy. Ornamental and opium varieties exist in the same species but the ornamental varieties are quite legal. The same precedent ought to apply to hemp varieties of Cannabis. Other countries are certainly making the distinction. Farm Bureau members need to register their support for SB 1397 with their State Representatives. Illinois should be a leader in this movement.

Midwestern agriculture is top heavy on feed grain production and too dependent on foreign demand for its survival. Hemp is a crop whose broad range of non-food uses would appeal to more regional markets. Processing facilities could be of the “mini-mill” variety and farmer-cooperative owned. The re-legalization of hemp would present farmers with the opportunity to create a new agricultural industry. In my opinion this is what Midwestern agriculture needs more then anything. On the back of the 1914-1918 series ten dollar bill is a farming scene showing farmers bundling hemp stalks. Hemp was so integral a part of U.S agriculture in times past it was depicted on our currency. We need to rediscover why.

Ned Behrensmeyer, Farmer
Payson, IL

Copyright © 2000, Adams County (Illinois) Farm Bureau. All rights reserved.

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