HEMP 101

WHAT IS INDUSTRIAL HEMP?​

Industrial hemp is a term used for varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant species that are grown specifically for industrial applications.  These varieties are selectively bred to have very low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). Hemp is used to make a variety of commercial and industrial products, such as rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation, and biofuels.

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM MARIJUANA?

While hemp and marijuana are both plants in the Cannabis sativa species, they differ from one another, legally, by the amount of a specific cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in the plant.  By federal law in the United States, plants with less than 0.3% THC are considered hemp and are legal to grow and process into commercial and industrial products (following state permitting and licensing regulations). 

WHAT PART OF THE PLANT IS IT?

A wide variety of commercial and industrial products can be made from all parts of the hemp plant, from CBD oils and protein food additives made from the seeds and flowers of the plant, to textile and applications made from the fibers taken from the stalk of the plant, to cellulose-based products made from the woody central part of the stalk, known as hurd.  This makes the hemp plan a very efficient source or raw materials for a wide variety of applications.

IS IT SAFE?

The help plant is a very safe agricultural product to grow, handle and process into products.  It is no different than other fiber-producing plants such as flax, jute, ramie and kenaf.  Since THC levels are below 0.3$ in hemp plants, there are no psychoactive effects associated with handing or ingesting hemp-derived products. 

WHY IS INDUSTRIAL HEMP CONSIDERED A SUSTAINABLE FIBER?

Hemp is considered a highly sustainable source of fiber and other biomass raw materials due to the fact that it grows quickly in most climates with little need for irrigation, pesticides or fertilizers. It takes up relatively little space and produces more biomass per acre than trees and most other fiber-producing plants.  Hemp crops even give back by returning nutrients to the soil and sequestering carbon more efficiently than most other agricultural crops. Finally, virtually every part of the plant can be used, which minimized the amount of agricultural waste produced.

WHAT ARE SOME USAGES FOR IT? WHAT INDUSTRIES? WHAT PRODUCTS?

The outer bast fiber on the stalk of the plant can be used to make textiles for the apparel industry and for industrial textile applications such as canvas and rope.  The woody core of the plant (hurd) can be used to make paper, cardboard, construction materials such as “hempcrete” (a hemp reinforced concrete-like building material) and absorbent animal bedding.   Hurd and fiber can also be used as a source of cellulose in the manufacture of biopolymers and cellulose reinforcements for biopolymers.  As a food additive, hemp seeds are high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fats and other nutrients. Hemp seed oil can also be used as an additive in paints, adhesives, cooking oil and traditional plastics.

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IS HEMP A STRONG FIBER? WHAT IS THE TENSILE STRENGTH?

While natural fiber strength varies greatly depending on plant varietal and growing conditions, hemp is considered one of the strongest natural fibers.  Hemp fiber is reported to have a tensile strength ranging from 500 to 1,100 MPa, which compares favorably with published values for fibers such as jute (400-800 MPa), sisal (500-850 MPa), flax (350-1,800 MPa) and ramie (400-900 MPa).

HOW MANY HEMP FARMERS DO WE HAVE NATIONALLY?

In 2020, a total of 21,496 growers were permitted to grow hemp in the United States, a 27% increase compared to 2019.  This translated to a total acreage of about 450,000 acres in the 2020 production season.

HOW MANY HEMP FARMERS DO WE HAVE IN PA?

The PA hemp program started in 2017 with 14 growing permits issued by the PA Department of Agriculture for research purposes,  In 2020 they issued 510 growing permits and an additional 65 processing permits.

WHAT IS THE HEMP GROWTH CYCLE AND TIMEFRAME?

The hemp plan growing cycle can be as short as 120 days, depending on climate and growing conditions.  This makes it possible to grow 2 crops in one growing season, or to serve as a seasonal rotational crop.

WHAT ARE THE IDEAL CONDITIONS TO GROW HEMP?

Due to the large number of varietals of hemp that are available (more than 400 have been cataloged), some variety of hemp can be grown in almost any agricultural climate.

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