During the 1997 SARE European Compost Tour, the farmers and
NRCS-Extension-Nonprofit specialists observed hemp being raised as
a green manure crop in Austria and Switzerland. In Germany, large round
bales of hemp straw were set aside for use as chopped carbonaceous
feedstock while building compost windrows.
However, as promoted by small farm advocates and urban enviro types,
hemp is highly overated in my opinion.
Who thinks hemp will be raised on small farm plots as a bucolic
cure-all along the backroads of rural states like Kentucky and Vermont?
Or that hemp will provide an alternative income for the small tobacco
Kenaf is already happening. On what farms do you find kenaf
being raised and by what production methods? The answer is there
is no difference between alternative kenaf and conventional agriculture.
In all likelihood, hemp will be a horizontal shift from high input
corn-soybean production to high input hemp production. Though the
environmentalists and small farm advocates will probably succeed in
getting hemp legalized sometime in the next 5-10 years, they are
likely to be dissapointed in the long run when hemp becomes just another
agri-industrial crop that drains the environment.
Thus, annual cropping (kenaf, hemp, cotton) versus perennial cropping
(trees, switchgrass) becomes a philosophical as well as practical
part of the picture. Annual crops tend to drain resources whereas perennial
crops are inherently more sustaianble. Hmm, if you keep going around this
circle you may wind back up with tree crops as perennial saviors of the
planet, and then you're back to timber management....or better yet,
If you've ever hand hoed thousands of feet of certified organic row crops
in the hot energy-zapping summer sun as an alternative to herbicides, then
you know your mind probably wandered off a time or two to home-made
formulas of weed killing "organic" herbicides (citric acid, vinegar, killer
garlic?)....and thus you've experienced that circle.
Then again, chipping trees off non-industrialized private foreset lands in
the South for shipping to Japanese paper mills looms as the worst
environmental and socio-economic crisis of the region in the 90's, so
hemp suddenly looks good again. Hmm, second time around the circle.
Leaping off this philosophical treadmill ain't so easy now that your
mind is spinning.
An alternative reality is that sustainable agriculture research at
land-grant universities is sufficiently grounded at a future point in
time that environmental farming methods for hemp are the starting
point of field trials rather than a follow on. Thus, hemp research will
begin with legumes in rotation to supply nitrogen, rotation and tillage
sequences to control weeds with zero herbicides, no-till research with
minimal herbicides, effect of hemp soil biology and pest cycles, etc. rather
than the standard fare of commercial fertilizer rates, herbicide rates, and
McCaffrey is correct when he states that hemp and marijuana look
alike because they are the same plant; they are botanically identical.
However, one of the solution in countries that do raise hemp has been
certified low-THC strains with strict licensing procedures.
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