The plant that could save Texas farmers in a drought
According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas leads the nation in cotton production and brought in $2.2 billion in cash receipts from cotton in 2012. However, these numbers do not mean that all is well with cotton production in Texas.
Delta Farm Press recently published an article discussing the impacts of the three-year drought Texas has seen. That drought has cost Texas almost half of its planted acres of cotton and according to Mississippi State University professor emeritus, O.A. Cleveland, “long-range weather forecasters say we are in a major cycle of drought in [Texas] that can last anywhere from five years to ten years.”
Texas Cotton Ginners Association president Dan Jackson and Plains Cotton Growers president Craig Heinrich both discussed key issues with the Texas cotton industry with cottonfarming.com last year; discussing the impacts of the drought, including the need to use rotation crops and become more efficient with our water usage.
The issue of droughts in Texas and cotton acreage being lost brings our attention straight to legalizing industrial hemp to help our Texas Farmers.
Industrial hemp requires half as much water as cotton and produces two and a half more times the fiber, all without pesticides. Hemp also has the lowest ecological footprint when compared to cotton and polyester, according to a 2005 report by the Stockholm Environment Institute. This means that while Texas farmers are losing out on half of their cotton acreage during these drought filled years, industrial hemp could be a viable experimental crop.
Estimates of the global market for hemp include some 25,000 products in nine different markets but Congressional Research Service reports indicate that there is no official estimate of the value of U.S. hemp sales and that it is difficult to accurately estimate the import value of hemp-based products. Even with the problems in estimating the market, the Hemp Industries Association estimates that the retail value of hemp products is around $500 million. We currently have to import all of our raw hemp products because hemp’s byproducts are legal but farmers in the U.S. are not allowed to cultivate and produce industrial hemp.
With Texas going into year four of droughts with the forecast showing more years of droughts in our future and Texas losing nearly half of the acres of cotton planted, legalizing industrial hemp and allowing Texas farmers the ability to experiment with the crop just makes sense. Hemp is ecologically friendly and cannot be used as a recreational drug unlike its cousin marijuana, as it contains less than 0.3% THC, which is the active ingredient which produces a “high.”
The only argument against legalizing hemp comes from some police organizations, which claim it looks too similar to marijuana. However, police in countries that do have hemp legalized do not have this issue because hemp is taller and skinnier than marijuana. It is also impossible to hide a marijuana crop within a hemp field because pollination from a hemp crop would destroy a marijuana crop. A viable marijuana crop requires that it not be pollinated in order to preserve the amount of THC within the plant.
Growing hemp would nearly destroy any surrounding marijuana growing operations.
However, Texas farmers will likely need some new equipment to make harvesting the crop possible. In Europe, farmers use harvest-spreaders which have been specialized and modernized from the equipment used to harvest hemp during the 1940s. Farmers can also harvest the unretted stalks using modified forage or sugar cane harvesting equipment, or as done in Western Europe recently, farmers could use conventional forage harvesters.
After the hemp has been harvested it must go through a retting process. The most feasible retting process in Texas would be what is known as field retting, which is where the cut hemp stalks are laid out in the field and the dew and moisture helps to separate the fibers from stalk. After retting, the crop can be treated similar to a hay crop and be harvested with large round or square balers.
While some will argue that advocates of hemp overestimate what legalizing hemp would do for the environment or economy, it is virtually impossible to argue any drawbacks to legalizing industrial hemp. With the passage of the new Farm Bill by the U.S. Congress, which allows states that legalize hemp to go forward with pilot programs, now is the time for Texas to get on board with legalization of hemp.
Organizations such as Farm Bureau have expressed support for legalizing hemp as well.
Now is the time for Texas to make legislative changes for industrial hemp and to be on the forefront of the cultivation of this crop, especially with a market that is difficult to predict. It is time to allow our farmers the opportunity to see what is possible with hemp as there is no legitimate reason to keep the domestic cultivation and production of industrial hemp illegal when we allow importation of industrial hemp byproducts. It is time to allow our farmers to profit from industrial hemp and stop sending the jobs overseas to other countries.
Hemp was last grown in the U.S. in 1957, and at one point in time, the federal government encouraged farmers to grow the industrious fiber in order to help supply war efforts during World War II.
By: Zack Brown
2L at Texas A&M School of Law, President of Texas A&M School of Law Students For a Sensible Drug Policy (LSSDP), and Co-Executive Director of Legally NORML.
Edited by Stephen Carter
Editor-in-Chief of Texas Cannabis Report
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