In 2018, industrial hemp was legalized in the U.S., as mounting evidence suggests that it could save the planet and support the economy. Now, the agriculture industry is depending on hemp to boost Florida’s economy after the dust kicked up by the current pandemic settles.
What is Hemp and what are its Benefits?
Hemp refers to the sterilized seeds, stems, stalks, and roots of the Cannabis plant and contains less than 0.3 percent of THC. It’s been used for food, oil, and fiber products in the past–but recently, new and more beneficial uses have been illuminated.
For instance, hemp can be used to create biofuel. Unlike traditional biofuel sources, such as corn and switchgrass, hemp is a zero-carbon energy source, meaning it does not release CO2. Thus, it is an environmentally-friendly biofuel alternative.
Hemp can also be used to create paper. Not only would this help reduce deforestation, but it would be more sustainable, as hemp paper lasts eight times longer than conventional paper.
How can Hemp Help Agriculture?
As if this wasn’t enough, farmers can use hemp to support regenerative agricultural practices. Regenerative agriculture aims to restore the soil and the planet as a whole through sustainable and ecofriendly ag practices. Hemp can help the regenerative agriculture movement in three ways: restoring the soil, reducing pollution, and increasing biodiversity.
Hemp produces biomass, which provides soil with essential nutrients. By rotating crops with hemp, farmers can replenish the soil after their annual crops have stripped it of nutrients. This would also help reduce the use of toxic, conventional fertilizers. In addition to this, because hemp has long roots, it can reduce soil erosion.
Like many perennials, hemp (an annual plant) can grow in infertile soil and absorb any heavy metals and toxins. Thus, it can reduce soil and possibly even water pollution.
Lastly, hemp can increase biodiversity. Hemp is pest-resistant, so it doesn’t require pesticides, which are toxic to many important pollinators, such as bees. This is critical because bees love hemp, and we can use this plant to restore their diminishing habitat!
Hemp Could Boost Florida’s Economy
So what does this mean for Florida’s economy?
The novel coronavirus has devastated Florida’s economy, especially its agriculture sector. According to Nikki Fried, Commissioner of Agriculture, a majority of Floridian farmers were selling produce to restaurants, cruise lines, and even Disney. Without these businesses, farmers have had to toss 70% of their crops.
The agriculture industry is a critical piece of the U.S. economy, and it’s a key player in boosting Florida’s economy. But fresh produce isn’t selling right now, so farmers will need something else to boost sales, something like hemp.
Currently, Florida doesn’t harvest hemp, so when stores buy it, they buy from out-of-state. This means money is leaving Florida. But if Floridian farmers begin to harvest the plant, they can keep the money in the state, thus boosting the economy.
Its ecofriendly and regenerative properties could also boost Florida’s economy in other ways. If hemp is found to reduce water pollution, it could restore Florida’s lakes, which have been swamped with toxic algae blooms. This would, in turn, increase tourism.
And if Floridian farmers begin to grow and harvest hemp, it could give Florida a competitive edge in the regenerative agriculture movement. Agriculture is moving toward more ecofriendly practices, and farmers hopping on board might receive benefits for their switch to regenerative agriculture practices.
Once Florida’s Hemp Program is underway, farmers can submit applications to begin planting. The pandemic has delayed its launch, but Fried is hopeful it will open soon.