Hemp Cultivation

Hemp is usually planted between March and May in the northern hemisphere, between September and November in the southern hemisphere.[52] It matures in about three to four months.

Millennia of selective breeding have resulted in varieties that look quite different. Also, breeding since circa 1930 has focused quite specifically on producing strains which would perform very poorly as sources of drug material. Hemp grown for fiber is planted closely, resulting in tall, slender plants with long fibers. “Until the early 1900s industrial hemp was a valuable crop used all over the world for its strong fibers and oil seeds. Today, however, the common perception of the industrial hemp plant is generally negative and associated with the drug marijuana. This perception is the legacy of a century of powerful influences constructing hemp as a dangerous drug, even though it is not a drug and it has the potential to be a profitable alternative crop. In the United States, the public’s perception of hemp as marijuana has blocked hemp from becoming a useful crop and product,”[53] in spite of its vital importance prior to World War II.[54] Ideally, according to Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the herb should be desiccated and harvested towards the end of flowering. This early cropping reduces the seed yield but improves the fiber yield and quality.[55] In these strains of industrial hemp the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content would have been very low.[53]

The seeds are sown from mid April to mid May with grain drills to 4–6 cm sowing depth. Hemp needs less fertilizer than corn does. A total of 60–150 kg of nitrogen, 40–140 kg phosphorus (P2O5) and 75–200 kg of potassium [5] per acre for hemp fiber made before sowing and again later, maybe three to four weeks. When practiced, especially in France double use of fiber and seed fertilization with nitrogen doses up to 100 kg / ha rather low. Organic fertilizers such as manure can utilize industrial hemp well. Neither weeds nor crop protection measures are necessary.[53]


longitudinal section photo

low-angle photo-shot

Hemp strains USO-xx and Zolotoniski-xx

A total of 26 varieties of hemp with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are certified by the European Union (EU).[56] They have, unlike other types, a very high fiber content of 30-40%. In contrast to cannabis for medical use, varieties grown for fiber and seed have less than 0.2% THC and they are unsuitable for producing hashish and marijuana.[57] The most important cannabinoid in industrial hemp is cannabidiol (CBD) with a proportion of 1 to 5%.

black and white drawing: C. sativa tall, C. indica middle, C. ruderalis small

The variety of appearances for cannabis. Only C. sativa (left) is suited for industrial hemp, but it also has medicinal varieties.

Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use, while C. sativa subsp. indica generally has poor fiber quality and is primarily used for recreational and medicinal purposes. The major difference between the two types of plants is the appearance and the amount of Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) secreted in a resinous mixture by epidermal hairs called glandular trichomes, although they can also be distinguished genetically.[58] Oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis approved for industrial hemp production produce only minute amounts of this psychoactive drug, not enough for any physical or psychological effects. Typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while cultivars of Cannabis grown for recreational use can contain anywhere from 2% to over 20%.[59]


Industrial hempseed harvesting machine in France.

Smallholder plots are usually harvested by hand. The plants are cut at 2 to 3 cm above the soil and left on the ground to dry. Mechanical harvesting is now common, using specially adapted cutter-binders or simpler cutters.

The cut hemp is laid in swathes to dry for up to four days. This was traditionally followed by retting, either water retting (the bundled hemp floats in water) or dew retting (the hemp remains on the ground and is affected by the moisture in dew, and by molds and bacterial action). Modern processes use steam and machinery to separate the fiber, a process known as thermomechanical pulping.

Location and crop rotation

Hemp maze in France

For profitable hemp farming, particularly deep, humus-rich, nutrient-rich soil with controlled water flow is preferable. Water logged acidic, compressed or extremely light (sandy) soils primarily affect the early development of plants.[citation needed] Steep slopes and high altitudes of more than 400 m above sea level are best avoided. Hemp is relatively insensitive to cold temperatures and can withstand frost down to -5 degrees C.[citation needed] Seeds can germinate down to 1-3 degrees.[citation needed] Hemp needs a lot of heat, so earlier varieties come to maturation. The water requirement is 300-500 l / kg dry matter.[citation needed] Up to 3 feet growing roots into the soil can also use water supplies from deeper soil layers. Worth noting is that the water requirement of hemp is at least 14 times lower than that of cotton which takes between 7 000-29 000 l/kg, according to WWF.[citation needed]

Hemp benefits crops grown after it. For this reason it is generally grown before winter cereals. Advantageous changes are high weed suppression, soil loosening by the large hemp root system and the positive effect on soil tilth. Since hemp is very self-compatible, it can also be grown several years in a row in the same fields (monoculture).


Main article: List of hemp diseases

Hemp plants can be vulnerable to various pathogens, including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses and other miscellaneous pathogens. Such diseases often lead to reduced fiber quality, stunted growth, and death of the plant. These diseases rarely affect the yield of a hemp field, so hemp production is not traditionally dependent on the use of pesticides.

Environmental impact

Hemp is considered by a 1998 study in Environmental Economics to be environmentally friendly due to a decrease of land use and other environmental impacts, indicating a possible decrease of ecological footprint in a US context compared to typical benchmarks.[60] A 2010 study, however, that compared the production of paper specifically from hemp and eucalyptus concluded that “industrial hemp presents higher environmental impacts than eucalyptus paper”; however, the article also highlights that “there is scope for improving industrial hemp paper production”.[61] Hemp is also claimed to require few pesticides and no herbicides, and it has been called a carbon negative raw material.[62][63] Results indicate that high yield of hemp may require high total nutrient levels (field plus fertilizer nutrients) similar to a high yielding wheat crop.[64]