What is Industrial Hemp?

Hemp or industrial hemp, typically found in the northern hemisphere, is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products.

It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Industrial hemp is from the plant species Cannabis sativa and has been used worldwide to produce a variety of industrial and consumer products. Hemp is a source of fiber and oilseed grown in more than 30 nations. In the United States production is controlled under drug enforcement laws.

Primary Uses

Virginia Status

What VA Farmers Need to Know:

Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is an annual, herbaceous plant with a slender stem, ranging in height from 4 to 15 feet and a diameter from ¼” to ¾”. The innermost layer is the pith, surrounded by woody material known as hurds.

Outside of this layer is the growing tissue, which develops into hurds on the inside and into the bast fibres on the outside.Industrial hemp can be grown on a wide variety of soil types.

Hemp prefers a sufficiently deep, well-aerated soil with a pH of 6 or greater, along with good moisture and nutrient holding capacity. Poorly drained soils, however, are not recommended as excess surface water after heavy rains can result in damage to the hemp crop. Hemp is extremely sensitive to flooding and soil compaction.

VA's Near & Longterm Outlook:

Authorizes a licensed person to grow or cultivate hemp in the state for research purposes.Provides for criminal exemptions for those growing industrial hemp.Provides that if state law conflicts with federal law, federal law will rule.Establishes rules, regulations and licensure procedures for the industrial hemp research program.

In order to legally plant hemp, Virginia inhabitants will have to obtain a license from the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which will be responsible for setting-up much needed regulations to issue these permits for those who want to become farmers.

Instead of importing the required materials, local farms can be set up where much needed jobs will be created. Moreover, since no traveling or import levies will be involved, the overall production cost will be lowered.

VA Industries that will Benefit the Most.

Automobile | Textiles | Cosmetics | Food | Agriculture | Building | Material | Medical | Energy

National Status

Primary Regions

Generally, states have taken three approaches: (1) establish commercial industrial hemp programs, (2) establish industrial hemp research programs or (3) authorize studies of industrial hemp or the industrial hemp industry. Some states establishing these programs require a change in federal laws or a waiver from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency prior to implementation.

Crop History

Hemp arrived in Colonial America with the Puritans in the form of seed for planting and as fiber in the lines, sails and caulking of the Mayflower. British sailing vessels were never without a store of hemp seed, and Britain’s colonies were compelled by law to grow hemp.

By the mid-1600s, hemp had become an important part of the economy in New England, and south to Maryland and Virginia. The Colonies produced cordage, cloth, canvas, sacks and paper from hemp during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Most of the fiber was then destined for British consumption, although at least some was used for domestic purposes. Ironically, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were penned on hemp paper.

Hemp’s use as a fiber crop was crippled by politics. In 1937, the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, aimed at regulating the narcotic varieties of cannabis. Interestingly, this law turned over the regulation of hemp production to the Department of Revenue, which was then responsible for licensing all hemp growers.

“(The Marijuana Tax Act) didn’t really affect us as growers, other than we had to pay a small tax and sign a paper stating that we wouldn’t use the plant as a drug,” explains hemp farmer and Matt’s nephew, Junior Prange. “What really killed the hemp industry in the 1950s was the availability of cheap synthetic fibers.”

Current Economics

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a non-profit trade association consisting of hundreds of hemp businesses, has released final estimates of the size of the 2015 U.S. retail market for hemp products. Data from market research supports an estimate of total retail sales of hemp food, supplements and body care products in the United States at $283 million….The HIA has also reviewed sales of clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products, and estimates the total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2015 to be at least $573 million.

Decision makers should examine these countries’ effective models to see how they can federally support the booming hemp industry here in America.

There is significant interest in using natural fibers such as hemp instead of synthetic fibers for a number of industrial applications. Examples include manufacturing composite parts for vehicles, as well as construction materials such as hempcrete and hemp ceiling tiles.

Other market segments for hemp products may include hemp food and body care products. Notably, hemp and hemp seed oil are ingredients in some certified organic foods, which have been gaining greater popularity in recent years. Certified organic hemp could be a possible growth market in North America.

Worldwide Status

Primary Regions

Thirty-six countries throughout Asia, Europe, South America, Africa and North America permit hemp production.

Hemp has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, and as a result, they have discovered its countless uses and benefits, securing over half of the 606 hemp patents recorded by the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization in 2014.

China is the largest supplier of raw and processed hemp fiber for the US, which imported $36.9 million worth of hemp in 2013.

At the end of 2015, the state of Uttarakhand became the first in India to legalize hemp production, and the Ministry of Textiles sees this first step as a way for Indian farmers and industry to capitalize on the $800 million global hemp market.

European hemp production for 2016 is estimated to top 60,000 acres, indicating a 300% increase over a 5 year span.

The Canadian hemp industry continues to expand. Hemp exports in the first four months of 2015 were worth $34 million compared to $12 million for all of 2011.

Crop History

Hemp is an ancient plant that has been cultivated for millennia. The Columbia History of the World (1996) states that

that weaving of hemp fiber began over 10,000 years ago! Carbon tests have suggested that the use of wild hemp dates as far back as 8000 B.C.

In Great Britain, hemp cultivation dates back to 800AD. In the 16th Century, Henry VIII encouraged farmers to plant the crop extensively to provide materials for the British Naval fleet. A steady supply of hemp was needed for the construction of battleships and their components. Riggings, pendants, pennants, sails, and oakum were all made from hemp fiber and oil. Hemp paper was used for maps, logs, and even for the Bibles that sailors may have brought on board.

Current Economics

Hemp is a powerhouse of sustainable solutions with a track record of success globally. Even without federal legalization of hemp cultivation, the Hemp Business Journal calculated US sales of hemp products in 2015 to be 25% greater than their 2014 total of $400 million (the Hemp Industry Association (HIA) estimated US hemp product sales in 2014 at $620 million).

Important Fiber Terms