Hemp is an ‘ecological wonder plant’ with almost endless potential as a sustainable raw fibre material, not to mention its intriguing nutrient profile and therapeutic benefits.
While there are a number of points that could benefit from further exploration, perhaps the two greatest barriers to expansion of the industrial hemp industry are the availability of viable seed and the rigidity of the current regulatory structure in regards to hemp fiber production.
Any farm project considering the integration of industrial hemp as a market crop should be prepared for a 5-10 year incubation period in determination of crop yield and profitability. On the fiber side, a few acres of the crop will be processed into hurd-free, long staple fiber following best practices learned and iterated over the previous four years.
Three sites were selected for continued field research into growing industrial hemp in North Carolina for 2019. Set in the rolling hills of Anson County, near Charlotte, hemp is a potential boon to a place where commodity crops and forestry are four of the top five industries. Certified hemp seed was drilled onto plots of seven acres, four acres, and nine acres, at a rate of 100 pounds per acre.
Encouraged by the Federal legalization of hemp in 2018, Fibershed has continued research into the versatile crop this year, deepening understanding of the plant and the fiber, prototyping hemp textile production in Northern California, supporting agroecological trials, and charting a path forward for weaving hemp into the region.
Early in 2019, we teamed up with textile artist Katie Berman and artist and designer Courtney Lockemer on the idea of organizing an art show utilizing hemp grown from the previous year’s field trial with local artists.
In 2018, we are excited to design, develop, and pilot the model for a seed-to-fabric supply chain for industrial hemp fiber to be shared with the larger industrial hemp and fiber movement.
BastCore is located in the greater-Omaha area and serves the fiber supply chain in an altogether unique way, through the processing of hemp. Outside, those were actually bales of hemp, harvested from across the country in states like Kentucky, Colorado, and Minnesota, which I was invited to see in person for BastCore’s open house at the end of September.
On the day of the harvest of the industrial hemp variety trial in North Carolina, we packed up the truck with some harvest tools and grabbed some friends from Bountiful Backyards in Durham, NC and Homegrown Agriculture in Bethel, NC, to make the trip out to the plot to harvest the crop and set up for drying. Again we came not knowing what exactly to expect – the weather since our last visit had stayed consistent with a few showers mixed into a month of dry weeks.
One month after seeding, we headed back to Eastern North Carolina to check in on the first organic hemp seed trial in the state under the new pilot program. What we could see immediately upon surveying the plots was a refreshing sight – clear germination and growth, differentiation amongst the varieties, and patches of heavy sprouting.
Industrial Hemp is being grown in North Carolina for the first time in nearly 80 years. For the land, its farmers, and its people, this is good. The first — to our knowledge — organic variety trial of the crop in the state, this hemp trial has set ground in Northeastern North Carolina next to a field of fresh tobacco.
At the birth of any industry, uncertainty abounds. So does opportunity, say Kentuckians like Joe Schroeder of Freedom Seed and Feed, who is among those growing industrial hemp and advocating for others in Appalachia to do the same.