The Sustainability of Hemp
August 31, 2021 | Written by The Hemp Pantry
Hemp is an ancient agricultural and economic crop, with archaeological evidence suggesting it was cultivated by humans as far back as 10,000 years ago.
Today, it is considered one of the most environmentally friendly commercial crops with thousands of uses, such as textiles, food, building materials and fuel.
Here are ten reasons why hemp is a sustainable wonder crop.
- IT REQUIRES LESS LAND
Intensive agricultural farming, such as the cultivation of palm oil and soya beans, is one of the key drivers of worldwide deforestation as forest is cleared in order to grow crops.
Many farmers also plant crops on every available bit of land, removing ‘buffer strips’ that protect waterways from erosion or runoff, and contain the habitat required for native species.
Hemp can be planted very close together meaning it requires less land and making it a high-yield crop. One acre of hemp will produce:
· as much fibre as two to three acres of cotton
· twice as much oil as an acre of peanuts
· as much paper as up to four acres of trees
- IT DOESN’T NEED PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES OR FUNGICIDES
Pesticides used in farming harm more than just the ‘pests’ being targeted.
These chemical concoctions are toxic and can secrete into the soil killing beneficial microorganisms. They can also seep into groundwater that is drunk by humans and supports other wildlife including birds, fish and insects. Pesticides sprayed on crops can also drift and pollute the air.
Exposure to pesticides and agricultural chemicals has been linked to a number of serious health illnesses and diseases in humans, including respiratory problems, birth defects and cancer.
Hemp can be grown with no agricultural chemicals. These hardy plants are naturally resistant to most pests, so there’s no need for pesticides and herbicides, which many other commercial crops need to survive.
Each leafy plant grows tall and, as they are planted closely together, have a dense leaf canopy that blocks out the sun, almost completely eradicating weeds.
Hemp can be made into textiles. By comparison, cotton requires large quantities of chemicals with 50% of the world’s pesticides and herbicides being used in its production.
- IT PREVENTS SOIL EROSION AND HELPS SOIL REGENERATION
Soil degradation is often caused by agriculture. This is the decline in the natural condition and quality of the soil, for example: a decline in soil fertility; a loss of organic matter; adverse change in structural condition; changes in the acidity, alkalinity or salinity; contamination by toxic chemicals; and water and wind erosion.
All life depends on healthy soil and it’s a fundamental natural resource. Crops, such as coffee, cotton, palm oil, soybean and wheat, can actually increase soil erosion. Soil erosion leads to infertile land, clogged waterways that negatively impact fish and other species, and an increase in the risk of flooding as degraded soil can’t hold on to water.
The long roots of hemp plants help to prevent soil erosion by binding the soil together. And, due to the lack of chemicals needed for it to flourish, hemp helps to purify soil.
It can also be grown in soil that would be considered infertile for most food-producing crops. It is known as a ‘pioneer plant’ that can be used for land reclamation, including regenerating soil polluted by heavy metals.
In fact, hemp is so effective at cleaning up contaminated soil that it was planted at Chernobyl following the nuclear disaster to help reduce soil toxicity.
- IT CAN GROW IN A VARIETY OF CLIMATES
Food often travels vast distances before it ends up on the plate. This is due to a number of reasons, such as: eating seasonal produce all year round, eating processed food with ingredients that travel from afar to the production facilities and a desire to pay as little as possible.
Food miles contribute to carbon emissions as food is transported via air, road and sea freight. However, buying locally sourced foods and organic produce can help to reduce the environmental impact.
Hemp isn’t a fussy plant and can grow in a variety of climates with a range of temperature and humidity. It can grow nearly anywhere in the world, in a variety of soil, in short growing seasons and in dry regions.
This adaptability means hemp can be easily cultivated organically and sourced locally rather than shipped around the world.
- IT ABSORBS LOTS OF CO2
An increase in levels of certain gases in the air, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), contributes to climate change. Carbon dioxide is known as a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet and oceans with negative consequences.
The carbon sequestration of hemp is impressive. From the moment it is planted, hemp begins to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
It has a sequestration ratio of about 1.5 units of sequestration per unit produced. Or, one ton of harvested hemp fibre absorbs approximately 1.62 tons of CO2.
Hemp absorbs more carbon from the air than trees, which take significantly longer to grow, and more annually, per hectare, than any other commercial crop.
- IT DRINKS LESS WATER
Approximately 70% of the earth is water, however 97% of that is saltwater. Of the 3% of fresh water available that is suitable for drinking, 2.5% is locked up in glaciers, ice caps, in the soil and in the atmosphere, or is too polluted to be consumed.
The remaining 0.5% of fresh water is naturally renewed, recycled and circulated. However, this process has a natural replacement rate that takes varying amounts of time and water isn’t immediately replenished. Also, with the growing population, there is more demand on the limited amount of fresh water.
The agricultural sector consumes approximately 70% of the fresh water available. Inefficient and wasteful water usage and management in agriculture can contribute to water scarcity and drought, as well as irreparably damaging water-dependent ecosystems.
Unlike many other commercial crops, hemp needs little water, and therefore requires far less irrigation than corn, wheat or soybeans in dry areas. It needs half as much water as cotton, and significantly less than almonds.
Cultivating crops such as hemp that require less water also helps to reduce pollution and conserve fuel reserves as machinery isn’t required to water the fields, power pumps or transport water.
- IT GROWS QUICKLY
Fast-growing crops require less maintenance, which in turn reduces carbon emissions, water usage, pesticide and fertiliser usage as well as reducing manufacture costs.
Hemp grows quickly, taking between four to five months. It’s an annual crop, so perfect for sustainable rotation farming and boosting soil nutrients.
Trees take years to grow until they can be harvested for paper or wood, however hemp is ready for harvesting just 120 days after it is planted.
- IT’S WILDLIFE FRIENDLY
Unsustainable farming can destroy natural habitats and cause pollution that negatively impacts nearby ecosystems due to the use of toxic chemicals.
Hemp is biodiversity friendly in terms of species numbers that can thrive amongst it, and research in the UK has shown that it is particularly beneficial to birds.
The hemp plant is pollenated by the wind and produces a lot of pollen and nectar for wildlife. Studies have also shown that it could also offer an additional pollen source for bees.
Hemp does not require chemicals to thrive, reducing pesticide pollution that harms wildlife, damages soil and contaminates water.
- IT BENEFITS PLANTS THAT ARE GROWN NEXT
Rotation farming involves planting different crops in the same land at different times of year, or in different years. It helps to reduce pesticide usage, because pests don’t have a steady supply of food. It also helps to reduce soil erosion and boosts soil fertility as different crops take different nutrients from the soil and replenish it with others.
Once hemp has been harvested, it benefits the plants that are grown next in the field. This is because hemp does not require pesticides and herbicides, and its dense canopy eliminates weeds.
Its leaves are also full of nutrients that fall, decompose and nourish the soil. And once it has been harvested, any remaining plant matter can be returned to replenish the soil.
One study found that after the cultivation of hemp, wheat yields were 10–20 percent higher.
- IT REDUCES WASTE AS EVERY PART CAN BE USED
Agricultural waste has been steadily increasing. It is produced as a result of agricultural operations and includes manure, natural harvest waste as well as plastics and other materials.
As the world’s population increases, so does the demand for food. This demand is met by an increase in farming, and subsequently, its waste.
Each part of the hemp plant can be used, reducing waste. The seeds can be eaten and made into an oil used in beauty products, for fuel, and in products such as paint, lubricating oils and ink.
The fibre found in the stalks can be used for clothing, rope, and various other textiles. It can also be produced into paper. Hemp paper is superior to paper made from trees as it will last hundreds of years without yellowing, is stronger, can be recycled many more times and requires fewer toxic chemicals to make.
The inner core of the stalk, the hurd, can be used for building materials such as insulation and a material called ‘hempcrete’. It can also be manufactured into biodegradable plastic.
The leaves and flowers can be used for organic compost, animal bedding and eaten raw in salads or dried out and drunk as a tea.
Hemp roots also have their uses, including use in some medicines as well as for organic compost.
Few other crops boast the environmental benefits of hemp. It’s a hardy, adaptable and low-maintenance crop which is hugely versatile.
It also tastes delicious!
The Hemp Pantry uses sustainable, organic hemp in all of our products. We make Veurre®, a palm oil-free, hemp butter alternative for vegans and those on a plant-based, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free or soya-free diet.