Helping Earth's Sustainable Management with a Plant

Hemp plants have few insect enemies, and respond to most soil types. They have a huge potential to be grown organically - without the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. There is also no need for genetic modification (GM) of these plants - they already have the desired characteristics.

The plants are very fast growing - this means that they soon swamp out weeds. They also have very few pest enemies, especially so in North America and Canada. They tend to attract a larger proportion of pests in Western Europe, although still comparatively fewer than traditional crops.  Research in Holland suggests that fungal diseases and pests can be reduced in traditional crops if grown in rotation with hemp.

Hemp has also traditionally been used to stabilize the soil in regions where there is a high chance of soil loss, for example upon the slopes of the mountains of the Himalayas. The plants have very penetrative roots. The main tap root can grow up to 12" deep in just 30 days. There is also a system of finer lateral roots which disperse themselves through the subsurface soil over 7-8", providing further stability.

Hemp plants are also wildlife friendly. Monoculture tends to lead to low levels of wildlife, particularly due to the loss of hedgerows and suitable habitats. Hemp plantations on the other hand have been shown to be beneficial to animals. Montford and Small (1999) found that hemp is biodiversity friendly in terms of species numbers and in competition of nutrients with wild land. Hemp plantations especially increase the numbers of birds. As many bird keepers will be aware, hemp seed is by far their favourite food. Scientific studies have shown that birds with a staple diet of hemp seeds can live up to 20% longer, be much healthier, have more lustrous feathers and produce more off-spring. The plant has the potential to resolve the problems associated with conventional farming.

Case study of conventional farming
In the 1950s, farming under went mass intensification, with the aim of producing as much as possible at the lowest possible cost - for profit. This lead to the production and application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, mechanization of labour and removal of hedgerows. The resultant effects upon wildlife have been well documented, beginning in 1962 with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, in which she described prior thriving animal habitats as lifeless. Whilst the worst of the crude pesticides of the 1950s and 60s have largely been eradicated (from more developed countries), there are still problems with chemical fertilizers. Nitrogen in particular causes problems when washed into water ways (including eutrophication and drinking water contamination) and can also be converted to nitrous oxides, contributing to the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion. There are also unknown effects of consuming toxic pesticide residues - which have been found in quantities 5x higher than the recommended EC levels on inorganic produce.

Hemp plantations can alleviate the problems associated with conventional agriculture in a number of ways:
  The plants will mop up excess chemical nitrogen from agricultural plots, preventing its run-off into waterways.
  Hemp itself can be grown without any artificial inputs.
  The crop can be grown as a food source - it is ideal for organic agriculture and could perhaps replace other crops requiring high chemical inputs.
  The crop can be used for a wide variety of industrial uses - to replace other crops which require high artificial inputs (such as cotton)
   It can play a vital role in soil stabilization.