Sorry Stoners: Hemp Isn’t A Miracle Material After All

Most of us have long-suspected that hemp supporters were just marijuana supporters. Modern Farmer’s takedown of the crop proves it.

We all had that friend in college (heck, maybe "that friend" was even one of us). Hemp necklace. Hemp bracelet. A Grateful Dead T-shirt, even in the dead of winter. But he was a go-getter. He didn’t spend his weekends smoking grass in the quad. Instead, he ran a booth that extolled the virtues of hemp—a miracle plant that, if you squinted past the THC, could form sustainable textiles, fuels, plastics, building materials, and even food.

I, for one, always felt a bit like a jerk for doubting that friend, for suspecting that he had a hemp bias based upon a penchant for marijuana. But according to Modern Farmer, none of us should feel bad because hemp, for all of its potential uses, is basically a jack of all trades and master of none. Plus? It’s harder to cultivate than you might think. From the site:

The one big benefit of hemp? Its environmental footprint is relatively small. It requires few pesticides and no herbicides. It’s an excellent rotation crop, often used to suppress weeds and loosen soil before the planting of winter cereals. On the other hand, it requires a relatively large amount of water, and its need for deep, humus-rich, nutrient-dense soil limits growing locales.

Image: Hemp Seeds via Shutterstock

And hemp cultivation is highly labor-intensive. Loflin, the Colorado farmer, took to social media to recruit 45 people to help him harvest his crop by hand over a weekend. "Use of a mechanical combine," the Denver Post reported, "would have harmed the plants’ stalks." That’s one reason prices are so high—about six times the cost of wood pulp. Hemp is an annual crop, which means it must be stored in order to be processed throughout the year, further adding to the cost of using it—and to the incentive for using something else.

No doubt, hemp may have been a miracle material in past centuries when we didn't have stronger materials to make rope. But it’s a pain to quench and harvest at scale, and with the last several decades of government subsidies driving the development of industrial crops, corn and soybeans have become miracle materials, too. (Though, no doubt, at the expense of our personal and environmental health.)

Read more here.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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16 Comments

  • JIMMYLIMO

    Sorry Mark, just another hack article bashing hemp. It's NOT labor intensive. Canadian hemp production is HIGHLY mechanized. The only reason the Colorado harvest needed 45 people to hand harvest was that the hemp plants were scattered throughout other grain crops. Once it's legal, future research will discover many other amazing products to be made from hemp, beyond the HUNDREDS that are already there. Hempcrete will be a huge player in future home construction. When the general public discovers the health benefit of hemp seeds, demand will explode. If you really want to "give back every day", try writing a SERIOUS and HONEST article on hemp.

  • Shayne

    This article is full of lies and generalizations. Everything is relative with plants. Hemp has a duel-crop status and produces many different materials from it. On the other hand, many people tout hemp as a bio-fuel and I do believe something like switchgrass would be better for that because it also produces a lot of biomass but with less water and fertilization required. But you can't make clothing or half the things from switchgrass as you can with hemp. Some people say hemp likes water. Again, what are you comparing it to? In comparison to cotton, hemp requires way less water. The fact of the matter is, we are having to get off fossil fuels and in response to that we are going to need renewable alternatives. We don't want to mine the soil, and some plants will make more sense in different areas than others and it needs to be diverse. So hemp isn't going to solve all the problems, but it's an important crop we need none the less..

  • kevin_hunt

    The reported health benefits of hemp seed oil, and especially the
    essential fatty acids, are well documented. When diets are supplemented with omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA in the proper 3:1 ratio, numerous benefits to health are achieved, including but not limited to greater resistance to cancer, inflammation, and blood clotting. A general increase in metabolism and lowering of overall blood cholesterol levels has also been observed.

    In addition to all of these positive health benefits associated with
    the use of hemp oil, there seems to be a complete lack of negative effects from its consumption. To date, there has been no reported cases of toxicity from the ingestion of hemp seed oil. Toxicity has also not been observed with any of the other constituents that were found as contaminants, which are primarily the cannabinoids.

    "The Composition of Hemp Seed Oil and Its Potential as an Important Source of Nutrition"

    Journal of Nutraceuticals, Functional & Medical Foods Vol. 2(4) 2000

  • kevin_hunt

    Hey Mark Wilson, you weren't involved in the Loflin Harvest, so you don't know exactly why the hemp had to be harvested by hand.

    Loflin got some bad advice on planting density, and there were too many (foxtail) weeds to make using the combine practical. Next year, Loflin will plant at a higher density so the hemp will suffocate the foxtail.

    Don't pretend to be an expert on hemp, because you are NOT.

  • EMIBias

    Eer. No. If you're going to make outrageous statements in your title, please have the common courtesy to follow it up with a decent article, rather than a badly researched poke at "stoners". I mean, what happened here, did you overhear half a conversation between a conservative father and his liberal son?

    You are a fud!

  • PDrinan

    1. There is barely any discernable amount of THC in hemp.
    2. Herbicides ARE pesticides.
    3. There's a HUGE difference between commercial hemp and pot

  • Shayne

    BS & hemp and switchgrass will be highly valuable to sustain a viable carbon fiber industry, while hemp can still be used directly to make clothing, building materials like hempcrete, etc.

  • Joshua Davis

    Also your title says hemp is not a miracle material and you hardly mention materials or textiles at all in the article, you talk about cultivation. Hemp is a "miracle" plant because it can provide: textiles, building material, cellulose for plastics, food and oil... All from one plant. That can be extremely useful.
    What's the real story here? Why did the author not due his due diligence? What's his angle?

  • kevin_hunt

    "Why did the author not due his due diligence?"

    Probably because he had a deadline to meet and had writer's block.

  • Ollie Jay Elks Allen

    Hemp is a "miracle" plant because it can provide: textiles, building material, cellulose for plastics, food and oil..

  • Joshua Davis

    This "article" is poorly researched and poorly written. The author makes no case to support his theory. A bit of research would conclude out neighbors in Canada harvest hemp with a combine that has been altered for hemp with no problems. His hypothesis that hemp is still for stoners has no arguement. In essence this blog is worthless. Do some actual research before you cut and paste.

  • Agustin

    I agree with Edward Coles. This blog post is crap.

    How can you cite so many benefits of hemp and still conclude it's just for stoners?

  • Edward Coles

    Wow. Blogging at its best! Take one poorly written article and then summarize it by picking and choosing the statements you like and making it even worse. Your last line is what makes hemp a viable crop. It does not hurt our personal and environmental health the way other crops do. It also reduces the need of pesticides on other crops when used in rotation. I expected a bit more from fastcompany, but I guess that was asking too much.