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Witt: Time to unleash industrial hemp

Hemp is a truly remarkable plant, and one with a checkered history, perhaps even more so here in Clark County.

Hemp has been actively grown as a crop since the birth of this country. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both growers and advocates of the plant.

It was grown legally in the U.S. until being outlawed in 1937, allegedly because it was a competitive threat to the wood products industry, an industry which raised unrealistic concerns about marijuana and linked the hemp crop to it.

Hemp growing saw a resurgence during World War II when the U.S. lost access to substitute crops from Asia and the Pacific region. That resurgence was felt here in Clark County as well and the Bluegrass Heritage Museum has exhibits and information about the raising of hemp here.

Now, more and more countries and governments are looking at the advantages of the crop. And research is going on right here to ascertain how best to take advantage of the crop at the same time hemp products are becoming both more available and more diverse.

There are presently at least 23 developed countries either actively growing hemp or researching ways to use it and grow it effectively. China is currently the world’s largest exporter of hemp paper and textiles. If a trade deficit with China is a real concern, wouldn’t it be wise to expedite the use of hemp in these areas in order to decrease dependency on foreign sources?

Canada is also legally growing hemp and is one of the largest exporters of paper products to the U.S. Why forfeit the making of paper to another country when growing conditions in the U.S. are ideal for hemp? In fact, the crop can be grown in all 50 states because it adapts to nearly all soil types and environmental conditions.

Here are just a few of the uses for hemp.

Newsprint. One acre of hemp can produce four times more paper than an acre of trees. And trees typically take 20 to 40 years before they can be harvested. Hemp can be harvested in four months.

The cost of newsprint has escalated 40 percent over the past year. With the lower cost of producing paper from hemp and the amount of land available to grow it, the price of newsprint could be stabilized, perhaps even reduced.

Paper products from hemp include everything from toilet tissue to cardboard and its use for paper would not only reduce the number of trees being cut down but would reduce soil erosion from logging.

Fewer caustic and toxic chemicals are used to make paper from hemp than from wood pulp.

Hemp produces textile which is 10 times stronger than cotton and requires less pest control because of its natural resistance. Fifty percent of all U.S. pesticide usage goes to cotton crops.

Hemp naturally repels weed growth. It can provide wood substitute building materials and requires less fertilizer than many other crops providing similar end products.

It provides oils which are used in food preparation and pharmaceuticals and it has very high biomass which means it can be converted into useful fuels.

It is definitely time for the U.S. to accelerate the permitting of commercial hemp growing. Doing so would not only provide additional viable crops for the nation’s farmers, it would serve to offset a serious trade imbalance now being experienced and it’s definitely time to overturn an 80 year prohibition.

Kentucky is positioned to be a leader in this potential industry.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.