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This week’s Book of the Week feature, produced by Chelsea Green Publishing, is Hemp Bound by Doug Fine.
The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Want to Make it in the Hemp Game? Two Words: Dual Cropping
I asked experts from four continents what advice they would give to nascent American hemp entrepreneurs, and while their tips were diverse and sometimes contradictory (they were, after all, advising future competitors), the phrase dual cropping invariably came up.
What it means is this: Hemp might be a miracle crop in its diversity of utility, but, particularly before economies of scale are reestablished in the United States, it is not necessarily a slam dunk in the marketplace in any one sector. So the digital age farmer/investor/industrialist needs to focus on two markets with one planting. At least.
To understand the three distinct product lines you’re potentially utilizing with every hemp harvest, you have to know a little bit about the architecture of this remarkable plant. The triumvirate of usable parts (some of which we’ve already mentioned) are (1) the seed, (2) the bast (or high-quality long fiber), and (3) the shiv or hurd (often referred to as the woody core).
How dual cropping looks in the real world is something like this: Pick a hybrid cultivar (seed variety) that will provide both a seed harvest and a fiber harvest. Pretty simple.
How do you know which cultivar is right for your hilly section of Oregon, recent sugarcane plantation in Hawaii, or dusty former GMO cornfield in Wisconsin? When I asked Canadian/American hemp consultant Anndrea Hermann that question, the MA in hemp fiber agronomy spun a nearby globe and basically said, “Find a variety from your latitude, with your day length and your humidity.” Day length, or photoperiod, is particularly important because the cannabis plant begins to flower as day length decreases. Certain cultivars will handle this more gracefully in certain latitudes. Premature flowering will reduce both a seed and a fiber crop’s quality. Rainfall is another factor: During my research in Ireland, I learned that moist weather during harvest season has to be factored in—this might prove of use to farmers in a similarly wet place like Western Oregon.
In the Czech Republic, similarly, farmer and entrepreneur Gabrielová told me she’s been growing the traditional European Carmagnola fiber cultivar, but is in contact with Finnish and Canadian seed providers as she searches for a dual-cropping variety that will provide both fiber and flowers for the health and beauty-care products she sells at her retail shop. “It’s been fun finding out the long history of this plant in Czech culture,” the 35-year-old told me via Skype. “It’s in our folklore. We have towns and even birds who like to eat the seeds named after hemp.”
Even if you’re not lucky enough to live in places like Nebraska, where as we’ve discussed natural selection has chosen the variety (it’s that one you find in your irrigation ditch), it’s still a matter of easy if methodical research to find cultivars well matched to your ecosystem. Unless, of course, you live in unusually chilly places like Antarctica or Congress.
A good starting point is the online cultivar list that Canadian federal government provides its hemp farmers. Or the farmer guide that the Brits who make hemp-and-lime building materials distribute gratis. From there, delve deeper into a prospective cultivar’s climate of origin, then call some farmers there to see if the climate, soil, and overall agricultural season sound similar to yours. Do your advance work, in other words, as you would when starting any business.
One cultivar Hermann suggested for dual cropping in the northern United States is called Alyssa (it was the subject of her graduate work). Come harvesttime, the farmer can sell her seed to the oil processor (or better yet, unite with her neighbors to own their own processor), and then sell the fiber to, say, a construction materials entity like the already established American Lime Technology, for use in building carbon-negative homes (more about those in a little while).
That isn’t even the most exciting part. This is the most exciting part, which I’m going to suggest even though one hemp expert called it a “current dream but a possible future if the numbers add up”: Imagine squeezing in a third harvest from the tough remaining hurd of the plant, to use for something fairly important: putting Chevron out of business—or at least forcing it to radically change its business model, thus ending a lot of U.S. and local teenager deaths in the Middle East.
The fact is, I found that planet-friendly “biomass energy production” is already happening. There are, for example, Austrian farmers generating their own (and some of their local grid) power from farm-side, cell-phone-monitored personal power plants. The power comes from stuffing waste farm fiber into a truck-sized device’s specialized double furnace chamber, creating energy via a relatively clean, anaerobic process called gasification. We’ll be talking more about this later, but for now know that those thousand gallons of gasoline power that Das and Reed tell us an acre of hemp can produce comes via gasification.
Gasification (or more generally “biomass combustion”) has not been implemented on a large scale with hemp to date, and one European hemp consultant cautioned me that cannabis hurd doesn’t provide as efficient a per-acre energy yield in a biomass combustion application as some other crop waste. But, heck, if you have it lying around by the ton? I mean, for a decade and a half the Canadians have just been burning it in the field.
Props to the Canadians for jump-starting the industry, but one day, single-market hemp farming will be considered laughably wasteful. Indeed, with the amount of research, brainpower, and private and government support industrial cannabis is generating everywhere in the industrialized world except the United States, no doubt new applications will emerge for all parts of the King of Seeds plant in coming months and years.
Which is to say I’m nearly certain that when I update this book in five years I’ll have to slap my forehead and apologize for missing hemp’s explosion into, I don’t know, water purification, malaria antidote making, cold fusion, computer chip multitasking, or Roger Ailes humanizing. I know of one fellow who’s developing a hemp plastic bottle to replace our landfill-clogging petroleum-derived bottles. He’s raised seventeen thousand dollars via Kickstarter. Another hemp entrepreneur, Wisconsin’s Ken Anderson, is delving into the federal approval process for hemp-based highway soundproofing material. “It absorbs twice the sound that concrete does,” he told me.
But I can only report on what I’ve seen today, and in the coming chapters we’ll look at some major hemp sectors to get us started dual cropping a plant from which China today nets close to two hundred million dollars, according to Shangnan Shui, a commodity specialist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Instead of restricting and threatening its farmers, China sends its president to tour hemp research facilities. That’s a multibillion-dollar policy difference.
The following excerpt is from Doug Fine’s book Hemp Bound (Chelsea Green Publishing) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.
About The Author:
Doug Fine is a pioneer voice in cannabis/hemp and regenerative farming. In the hemp/cannabis sphere, Doug is a farmer, author and well-regarded researcher and consultant for projects all over the world. This year he is teaching a course on Organic Hemp Farming and Marketing at Sterling College’s School of the New American Farmstead. In addition to his hemp work, Doug is an award-winning culture and climate correspondent on five continents and a repeat guest on Conan and the Tonight Show. Doug is also a solar-powered goat herder and a bestselling author.
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- Ask The Plant, by Charles Walters and Esper K. Chandler
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- The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook, by Philip Wheeler