For those of you who look over Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar’s 36,000 or so acres of Central Maui that won’t be growing sugar anymore this time next year and think that maybe we might start growing hemp on at least a portion of that land, there’s good reason to be optimistic. Really optimistic, if state Rep. Kaniela Ing, D–South Maui, gets his way.
“Hemp warrior, Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R-Kailua) and I are putting forth a bipartisan proposal to transition HC&S’s cornerstone crop from sugar to industrial hemp,” Ing posted on Facebook on Jan. 13. “Coupled with direct severance and training assistance, this could save hundreds of plantation jobs on Maui.”
A recent report filed with the state Legislature also states that hemp might pan out after all as a major crop in Hawaii. Two years ago, the Legislature passed Act 56, which set up an industrial hemp research project (to the tune of $78,860). In December 2015, the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources filed a 10-page report with the Legislature that outlined the results of the research project. In short, industrial hemp might just work in Hawaii.
Because of the Drug War, it’s been illegal to grow industrial hemp in the U.S. for a few decades now. And even though a 2014 federal farm bill allowed universities to carry out limited industrial hemp research projects, it took 11 months for UH to get the OK from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Obviously the politics of hemp growing still need work, but as far as the science is concerned, UH’s feasibility study was pretty positive.
“[I]n the current 2015 trials, subtropical fiber hemp grew very well,” states the UH report. “Evidence has been gathered suggesting that 3 crops a year could be grown in our State. Evidence indicated that this would yield between 27-38 tons dry weight of stalks per year depending on densities planted. Similarly, between 31 and 35 tons dry weight of stems and leaves could be obtained per year which could be used as animal forage. A subtropical seed hemp cultivar also grew well. Evidence suggested that 2 crops a year could be harvested and yields of about 2.5 tons of seed could be obtained per acre per year.”
The study also explored hemp-based building materials (“hempcrete”) and cattle forage, as well as using hemp seeds themselves as food. “At one point Canada grew 40,000 acres of hemp per year,” states the report. “All but 10,000 acres went into other crops but the remaining hemp acreage was for seed hemp. They market packets of hemp seeds which people sprinkle on their cereal during breakfast, their salads, or make into cookies. The value of seed hemp is potentially very high. The 2.5 tons/year translates to 88,000 ounces/year. If there are 2 ounces of hemp seeds per candy bar this means each acre of hemp could support 44,000 candy bars a year.”
Keep in mind though that this was all just a simple university research project–the federal government still takes a dim view of hemp.
“Seed importation was a challenge,” the report notes. “The main reason is that industrial hemp is classified by the DEA as a Schedule 1 narcotic.”
Unless and until the federal government loosens its collective collar on hemp, it will remain a subject of research projects, rather than a major crop grown on Maui.
Click here to read the UH report on industrial hemp.
Photo: Kat_geb/Wikimedia Commons