Hemp can Fuel Regenerative Agriculture, if we let It

Hemp is finally making a comeback, one that could bolster the regenerative agriculture movement. Yet obstacles continue to disrupt the hemp industry and plug the path to a better environment. It’s true that hemp can fuel regenerative agriculture, but only if we let it.

Was Hemp Always so Taboo?

No. No it was not.

Archaeologists have found evidence of hemp products in present day China and Taiwan dating all the way back to 8,000 BCE. From then to 1840, hemp was used around the globe to make clothing, pottery cords, rope, paper, and ship sails. In addition, its oil was used in cuisine, medicine, and lamps (as fuel).

Hemp was so essential that in 1533, King Henry VIII fined farmers who did not grow hemp. Similarly, in the 1700s, colonists were required by law to grow hemp.

Early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.


So how did hemp transition from a vital commodity to an illegal drug and taboo subject?

You can Blame Anti-Marijuana Legislation

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in the United States, heavily taxing any cannabis products. This act, which was the first step in an anti-marijuana movement, propelled the era of hemp prohibition. Due to heavy taxing, hemp farming decreased. America then turned to the Philippines for its source of hemp, but when the attack on Pearl Harbor blocked trade with the Philippines, America had to improvise. In 1942, the USDA initiated the Hemp for Victory program, subsidizing hemp cultivation for WWII efforts. After the war ended, hemp production began to dwindle.

As a final blow, the Controlled Substances Act, passed in 1970, listed hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug. Strict regulations made growing hemp in the United States nearly impossible.

You might be thinking: but we’ve always had hemp products, right? Even in the ’90s?  

You’re right. In the 1990s, the United States began importing hemp oil and hemp seed. The United States has always recognized the significant role hemp plays in everyday life. Anti-marijuana legislation is what took down the hemp industry.

So now what? Is hemp still classified as an illegal drug?

Hemp in 21st Century Agriculture

In 2018, the Farm Bill, formally known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, legalized hemp. It took years and several attempts at passing hemp-specific laws to finally legalize hemp. But we did it.

Of course, farmers have been legally growing hemp for years. In 2007, the very first hemp licenses were granted to two farmers in North Dakota.

But now, hemp is legal to grow. And it’s going to dramatically change the United States’ agricultural landscape–if we can somehow eradicate its negative connotation. Despite the fact that hemp is now legal, many still associate the plant with marijuana, and it’s affecting the hemp industry.

Hemp is Legal Campaign

In May of 2019, the Hemp Industries Association introduced the Hemp is Legal campaign in response to Facebook’s advertising policy, which prohibits the marketing and promotion of industrial hemp. One month later, Facebook revised its policy to allow ads for CBD topicals on its platform, but these ads are restricted from featuring the products, and ads for ingestible CBD are still prohibited.

Discrimination in the marketing world isn’t the only problem the hemp industry faces.

According to the law, states shouldn’t prohibit hemp transportation across state lines. Yet, because hemp and marijuana are indistinguishable to the human eye, police officers often stop and arrest those transporting hemp. You can read more about this problem (and the differences between hemp and marijuana) here.

In addition, financial discrimination from banks is hurting the hemp industry.

Federal banks have no clear regulations preventing banking discrimination toward the hemp industry, which breeds uncertainty. Some banks are unsure whether they can legally serve industrial hemp businesses.

If it can overcome discriminatory obstacles, the hemp industry can truly help the planet (and us). Here’s how.

Hemp for Regenerative Agriculture

Currently, the agricultural industry is suffering.

A changing climate, erratic weather patterns, and infertile soil are hurting farmers. While many climate change critics claim that a warming planet is nothing new, a warming planet is, in fact, a problem. Perhaps not a new problem, but a problem nonetheless. Rising CO2 emissions are decreasing the zinc and iron levels in crops. In addition to this, rising sea levels are infiltrating fresh water aquifers, causing soil salination, and drought and flooding are devastating cropland.

Traditional outdoor farmers can’t run from weather or climate-related issues like their indoor counterparts. They have, however, run from infertile soil for years. Infertile soil, caused by tillage and irresponsible fertilizer use, has prompted farmers to find new land on which to grow their crops. But as of 2017, one third of the earth’s soil was infertile, and as more and more land becomes unusable, farmers will have nowhere else to turn.

That’s why farmers are turning, instead, to regenerative agriculture, a farming practice that focuses on:

  • Reversing climate change
  • Supporting soil fertility
  • Limiting water waste and pollution
  • Increasing biodiversity.

So how exactly does hemp fit into this equation?

Reversing Climate Change with Industrial Hemp

Or, we should say, reversing anthropocentric (human-caused) climate change.

Carbon dioxide accounts for 65 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and much of these emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Hemp is great for the purposes of agriculture, as it is a zero-carbon energy source that can be used to produce fuel. That’s right. Hemp releases absolutely no CO2.

And according to a new study published in Nature Communications, if we were to replace fossil fuels with zero-carbon sources today, we would have a 65 percent chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.

Not only does hemp emit zero carbon dioxide, but it also absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that for every ton of hemp grown, 1.63 tons of carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere.

Hey, that’s a pretty good start.

Supporting Soil Fertility with Industrial Hemp

As mentioned above, conventional agricultural practices have damaged our soil due to tillage and irresponsible fertilizer use. For years, farmers have relied on monoculture, which entails growing the same crop (usually a high-value cash crop) year after year on the same land. Instead of rotating crops to support soil health, farmers have instead relied on using more and more fertilizer to get their crops to grow. But excessive fertilizer use damages soil, so due to these practices, we’ve seen a large decrease in soil fertility.

Hemp will help increase soil fertility in two ways.

Hemp produces biomass, which provides soil with essential nutrients. Rotating crops with hemp can help replenish the soil after annual crops have stripped the soil of its nutrients. In addition to this, hemp, though an annual crop, acts more like a perennial crop. Because its roots are longer than annual crops’ roots, hemp actually reduces soil erosion. And, like perennials, hemp can grow in infertile soil, even absorbing heavy metals and toxins. (You can read more about how perennial crops help soil here.)

And that brings us to the third way hemp can fuel regenerative agriculture: limiting pollution. Hemp might not prevent farmers from polluting the land, but it can absorb any pollutants before they damage the soil or enter surrounding water resources.

Increasing Biodiversity with Industrial Hemp

Last (but certainly not least), hemp can help increase biodiversity.

Amazingly, hemp is resistant to pests. Thus, farmers don’t need to use pesticides, which are known to kill pollinators, cause adverse health effects in humans, and pollute waterways. By eliminating the need for pesticides, hemp will keep pollinators safe. In addition, hemp is also resistant to predators, which means hemp can provide a safe habitat for pollinators seeking refuge. And who loves hemp? Bees, one of the pollinators that risk extinction! (You can take our Bee Informed quiz to learn all about bees here!)

Let’s Help Industrial Hemp

It’s estimated that hemp has 25,000 different uses, all of which are sustainable and ecofriendly.

If you want to become an industrial hemp farmer, check out this article, which discusses hemp farming regulations.

If you want to help support hemp without farming it, here are a few things you can do:

  • Buy hemp products, including seeds, milk, oil, and soap
  • Help promote hemp products on social media by becoming an ambassador
  • Talk to your family, friends, and others who might have negative predispositions to hemp
  • Educate yourself by reading more on hemp
  • Share this article on social media to spread awareness!



History of Hemp in the US

Hemp Industries Association Issues New Statement with “Hemp Is Legal” Campaign

The Benefits of Hemp for Regenerative Agriculture