Curt Swift, Ph.D.
CURT'S CORNER
Grand Junction Free Press Gardening Columnist

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January 10, 2013
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SWIFT: Hemp, the next cash crop

Hemp. I don't know if I would suggest planting the crop this year, but it does seem like it might someday be another food and fiber crop that could be grown in our part of the country.

The fibers from the stalks are used to make clothing often at a 55/45 hemp/cotton blend; hemp fibers are also blended with flax fibers to produce cloth and canvas. Hemp canvas covered the wagon carrying your ancestors across the plains and was used for the sails on sailing ships of old. The seed is pressed for its oil and used in soaps and shampoos, used in oil-based paints, plastics, moisturizing creams, and even for cooking. You can even buy soap made with a lavender/hemp blend. The seed was added to bird seed and I remember the old days when hemp/marijuana would grow from seed birds kicked out of feeders.

The seeds have a high nutritional value full of essential amino acids and fatty acids your body craves. You can toss them into salads and use them in place of nuts in cooking. How about adding them to your bowl of oatmeal or grinding them up and adding them to a smoothie to increase the protein content. They are reported to be a great source of Vitamin E, dietary fiber, and important minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. They are even recommended by registered dietitians. This sounds like the crop I should be growing. Except, it's illegal. Right now!

You might be driving a car made in part from fibers from this plant. Hemp is being mixed with plastics for use in door panels, glove boxes, and other parts of cars and trucks. I'm not sure but some of the fibers in this newspaper could be hemp. After all, the old term of rag referring to newspapers came from the reprocessing of cloth rags to create the paper upon which newspapers were printed; some of those cloth rags most likely contained hemp fibers.

Industrial hemp contains a very low content of THC, less than 1 percent, while the varieties of the plant used for recreational and medicinal purposes contains from 3 to over 20 percent. Countries that grow industrial hemp usually stick to varieties with less than 0.3 percent THC. The problem is distinguishing between the high THC varieties and those acceptable as industrial hemp.

Years ago I was involved with research studies of onion diseases in the Brighton, Colo., area. Industrial hemp was a common ditch bank weed due to the production of this crop in past years. Today, however, any seed you purchase for this crop is required to be sterilized to prevent growth. Some of the studies of fungi during graduate school used hemp seed in the growth media. The professor reminded us the seed had been cooked in an autoclave to discourage us from absconding with the seed. -

During World War II, the US Department of Agriculture promoted the growing of hemp for the war effort to manufacture rope, and cordage of all dimensions was needed. Every naval battleship of the time required 34,000 feet of rope. Canvas made from hemp was needed and the supply of hemp from other countries was limited. Patriotic farmers were encouraged to grow hemp, 50,000 acres in 1943, and Extension agents from the land grant colleges like Colorado State University provided guidance on its cultivation.

To grow hemp, farmers needed permission which they obtained through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Four-hundred-thousand acres of hemp were grown for the war effort between 1942 and 1945. (The spelling of "Marihuana" is correct. That was the way it was spelled at that time.)

Canada is one of the countries where industrial hemp is legal and heavily regulated, and by July 1, 2014, Colorado should have regulations governing the "cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp." This is part of Amendment 64 Coloradan's passed on Nov. 6, 2012.

Until the regulations are in place, I would not suggest anyone get too excited about the commercial production of industrial hemp. The cost to abide by the regulations might outweigh the value of the crop. If, however, you grow industrial hemp and create your own value-added products, you might find this a profitable endeavor, unless the U.S. Attorney General gets involved.

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 10, 2013 03:12PM Published Jan 10, 2013 03:05PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.