Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hemp is not our future

I rarely write a letter to the editor, and then the motivation is the same that inspires the occasional stating-the-obvious-that-no-one-else-has-expressed post at RtO: Some things are so obvious (like, for example, the sun is not yellow although every depiction of it you have ever seen is bright yellow) that no one notices.

Thus my letter, published today, suggesting a new airport on the cane lands in the valley. It would not require more than a small fraction of HC&S's land; I estimate 1,500 acres or so. So, what will happen to the rest?

The short answer was stated by Ben Lowenthal in his State of Aloha column last week, where he noted that the abandoned Haserot and Libby pine fields around Haiku remain unused 40 or more years after going out of production. Or, as HC&S managers used to say, if it can be grown in the San Joaquin Valley, you cannot grow it in Hawaii and make a profit.

A worm's eye answer was supplied in a post by the Hawaii's Farmer's Daughter.

A problem in a country where 49 out of 50 people have never lived on a farm, and where 48 out of 50 have no knowledge of what farming involves, is that 48 or 49 out of 50 Americans have delusional ideas about where food comes from. For the anticane people on Maui, 50 out of 50.

Hemp, hemp, hemp they say. It won't be hemp.

Although hemp grows most anywhere, it prefers high latitudes. Enthusiasts who like to cite evidence that shamans smoked hemp thousands of years ago in Siberia might like to consider the obvious: The climate of Siberia is not like the climate of Maui.

Americans tried to grow hemp in the 19th century. For every 100 acres of cotton, there were 9 acres of hemp, mostly in Kentucky and Missouri, also with climates unlike Maui's. They weren't very good at it. The hemp was used to make burlap to enclose cotton bales, but high-value products like cordage were always made of Russian hemp, which was superior. (The patient muzhiks retted their hemp under snow; the impatient Americans spoiled their fibers.)

Hemp may have thousands of uses, but so do any plants. Plants are alike: They make cellulose, sugars, starches, fats and proteins. There is great variety in the proteins, from gluten that makes dough stretchy to poisons that make insects sick, but the other products are much of a muchness.

Some plants produce in forms that are more convenient to use than others. That is why ethanol is made from corn and not from hemp. Cellulosic ethanol, like the Second Coming of Jesus, has been promised repeatedly but somehow never happens.

Now that natural-fiber cordage has been replaced by petroleum-derived fibers, the practical uses of hemp are few and minor. France is the largest producer, most of it used for animal bedding. The total acreage planted to hemp in France amounts to about two-thirds the acreage of HC&S.  



No comments:

Post a Comment