Industrial Hemp

I work in the hemp industry. I’ve probably never informed you of that. It’s my “day job”.

Some of you will already be familiar with the remarkable properties of industrial hemp. The entire plant is useful — for medicine, for fibre, for food and edible oil, for clothing, and a host of other uses. There has been, lately, an explosion of interest in the plant. In Canada, it has been cultivated for some time. More recently some jurisdictions in the United States have made the cultivation of industrial hemp and research into its many uses a priority — Washington, Colorado, etc. Our business is overwhelmed with requests from from university research laboratories and state agricultural departments in the United States and overseas for our data and our cultivar. So, a little bit of my day job here may soon appear in a neighbourhood near you.

This new enthusiasm for hemp is quite justified. The plant has been suppressed for a long time because of its similarity to marijuana (and for other reasons more pecuniary). Because hemp is so very versatile, it is going to challenge a whole range of conventional industries that have not been very environmentally friendly — including the chemical and petroleum industry — since the hemp fibre is very suitable as a replacement for plastics and synthetics. It is also highly absorbent and in Canada is also being even manufactured even into things like kitty litter.

Something of a Gold Fever and Gold Rush mentality — even a cultishness — has risen round the hemp plant, which brings to mind the famous Dutch Tulip Craze. More idealistic types are also quite convinced that hemp will save the world. I doubt it, but their evangelical zeal for hemp and proselytizing enthusiasm probably won’t harm it much. There are worst things to get enthused about.

I also happen to know that there are some surreptitious schemes afoot to genetically modify industrial hemp and yet brand it as “natural”. In fact, like “human engineering”, genetic engineers have gone to great lengths to describe what they do as “natural” as well. But since genetic modification is the thin edge of the wedge of geo-engineering — and that’s how genetic engineering should be understood, ie, in the broader context of geo-engineering — you can appreciate how the name “Nature” (and “natural”) is going to be spun to death.

Hence, my current interest in dissecting the whole phenomenon of “branding” and perception management, particularly when it comes to rebranding “Nature” and all the implications of that, inclusive of the human relationship to this “Nature”. How “nature” is understood ends up also being how “human nature” is understood, and I’m already seeing some jiggery pokery around that branding of “Nature” and “natural”.

You are, perhaps, familiar with Nietzsche’s maxim: “Be true to the Earth!”. Well, the reciprocal process is also his “Become what you are!”.  These are the two sides of the coin, so how we understand “Earth” and our relationship to it is also how we will become ourselves. So, the branding of “Nature” or “Earth” is what we might call “non-trivial”.

In any event, it is entirely conceivable, maybe even likely, that hemp will be as central to future society as the salmon is to West Coast tribes or the Buffalo was to the Plains Indians, both totemic animals and spirits. There are certainly worse things to serve as totems — like Pepsi or Coke.


2 responses to “Industrial Hemp”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Scott, with your prolific posting and commenting, I wouldn’t think you would have time for a day job! 🙂

    Fascinating, in that I work in industrial rope manufacturing. Unfortunately, we still rely entirely on synthetics. In my volunteer roles with sustainability orgs, I come across folks wanting to promote and experiment with hemp. At work I’ve talked with some of the engineers who are not very interested at this point in using hemp, and one retiring executive who remembers the day when we used cotton, sisal, and hemp – a somewhat messy business. Rope construction has come a long way since then.

    My view is that in the not too distant future we will be forced to return to natural fibers due to the depletion of oil.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The technology for handling hemp fibre should be improving. Talk to thos engineers again. Washington State has legalised the production of industrial hemp, and there’s going to be good opportunities for those who get into new applications for hemp fibre — not necessarily rope, mind you. But in Europe they are already building car bodies out of engineered hemp fibres. And in some respects, the Chinese are way ahead of us in the innovative and novel uses of industrial hemp.

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