Green hemp fields dotted across the English countryside may sound like a (trippy) dream to some. And a nightmare for others. But did you know that they were a common sight in the 19th century? And they come back thanks to their carbon siphoning powers.
Tarred with the same brush as marijuana
To give a pot story, cannabis plants were banned in Britain as part of the Dangerous Drugs Act in 1928. Hemp is lumped together with marijuana, even though they contain significantly different amounts of the psychoactive compound (THC) in the drug, ‘weed’.
The ban was replaced by strict government regulations in 1993. Plants reared still cannot contain more than 2 percent THC and growers must have an expensive, government-issued license of £ 580 (€ 678).
Despite the lack of government support, more and more farmers in the UK are turning to hemp production for its economic and environmental benefits. It is legal for them to sell a variety of hemp products, such as milk and powdered seeds, to supermarkets and other businesses.
Under the right conditions, hemp absorbs more CO2 than is necessary for cultivation – and binds nine to 15 tons of CO2 per hectare. That is almost twice as much as a forest of the same size a Cambridge University researcher. Could it be the next big carbon sucker?
What do hemp farmers and traders say about the potential of the plant?
A time traveler from the 19th century would be amazed at how many hemp products there are today. Everything from beard oil to snack bars contains hemp and CBD – the wonder chemical that also sets it apart from marijuana.
CBD is extracted from the hemp flowers. But despite the wellness boom, the compound cannot currently be grown in the UK. It has to be imported. This means that farmers are only allowed to harvest the stems and seeds of the plants and have to drop the leaves and flowers and rot – or burn them.
Dave Shaw is the managing director of Good Hemp in North Devon, one of the UK’s largest suppliers. Only 10 percent of the 1,500 tons of hemp seeds the company uses each year come from the UK. The rest will be shipped from France and Canada, he said BusinessLive in this week.
“It’s treated as if it’s a dangerous plant when it actually has so many environmental benefits,” he said.
Not only does hemp absorb carbon, it also regenerates the soil it grows on and cleans it of heavy metals and toxins left behind by other plants, ”explains Tommy Corbyn, co-founder of the National Hemp Service.
“With this in mind, hemp is perfect for restoring arable land between crop rotations, and the government should encourage farmers to do so.”
Hemp can be used sustainably in a variety of ways: as a protein source in a plant-based diet, in clothing, biomass and even in building materials such as’Hemp concrete“Where it continues to bind CO2.
“Now, more than ever, we as a nation need to take immediate action to combat climate change, stimulate our labor market and the economy. Increasing hemp cultivation is one way of tackling all of these things at once, ”says Corbyn.
How does UK law compare to other European countries?
Land for hemp production grown by 75 percent in the EU from 2015 to 2019, and the facility is adopted by some of the UK’s closest neighbors, including France and the Netherlands.
Some countries have gone further and decriminalized all cannabis plants. Last month, a “fundamental reorientation of the Luxembourg drug policy” the government has announced that adults can grow up to four cannabis plants per household for personal use. Italy is about to take a similar step, with a referendum for next year.
As more farmers, from Aberdeen to Devon, turn to the hemp plants, they are hoping for such a profound change in British politics.
“In our view, shipping hemp from the south for processing in the north of England costs between £ 500 and £ 800 in logistics.” explained the Good Hemp MD. “For farmers, it’s not that they don’t want to grow it, but they have to factor that extra ‘takeover’ into their profit margins.
“In places like France, they have set up cooperatives that share the cost of investing in this infrastructure. What we want to see is government policy backed by grants that can do the same here. “
Is Growing Cannabis Really That Great For The Planet?
Growing hemp has huge potential, but of course it depends on how it’s done. Growing outdoors is the most environmentally friendly method, especially since it doesn’t require pesticides.
But inevitably “underground” most illegal cannabis growers do so indoors – and tend to use artificial light, sometimes from off-grid diesel and gasoline generators, to remain inconspicuous.
“The ban is the main cause of the environmental impact of cannabis farming,” said Dr. Silvaggio, environmental sociologist and faculty member at the US Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIIMR). Euronews Green last year.
“Legalization coupled with environmental policy has the potential to be good for the environment,” said HIIMR Co-Director Dr. Dominic Corva. Still, he has seen “enormous warehouses of cannabis grown on a scale that should not be happening,” diverting water from rivers during drought conditions.
So, in some of its current forms, industrial cannabis growing does more harm than good. However, hemp is a hardy plant and can be grown in a variety of soil types and in a dry climate with little water requirement.
More research is needed in the UK market and with the island becoming a hotspot for hemp growing, it is high time to review the regulation.
“One day I would like to have a hemp farm in the UK that is sustainable, minimizes mileage, provides community jobs and produces our own CBD,” says Corbyn. “That’s the dream.”