Skip to main content

Author: Ken Gibson


The status of hemp has changed much over the years; after being the world’s most traded commodity, it fell into a state of neglect. Then it was restored, as the hemp movement led by the likes of Jack Herer, rallied the public to support a change in the laws. When I wrote my book in 2006, hemp was for the most part illegal in the US. It was made legal in the past few years on the federal level, and many states now allow it to be cultivated. 

Part of the reason for the change in attitude was the overall usefulness of hemp, which provides many raw materials to industry. This fact is putting hemp more in the spotlight today, as the world is changing faster than ever. Wars and scarcity of supplies are making people think more about the basis of the economy, which, as Adam Smith noted, is agriculture.

One aspect to agriculture is food, as most would readily agree. Another, that is not so apparent, is fuel. Simple biomass, mostly in the form of cellulose, provides raw material for methane and ethanol. The latter is a much debated issue, as in some areas ethanol is mandatory, seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum.  Economists are now joining forces with ecologists on this issue, as petroleum, much of which is produced in Russia, the Middle East and other areas that are not entirely friendly to the United States at this time, has gone way up in price.

As the price of a gallon of gas rises, so does the price of a gallon of milk. 

This simple logarithm is not so simple, however, when politics and journalists get involved.

Recently Tucker Carlson of Fox News was on the air talking about the use of corn for ethanol, and how this would lead to an increase in food prices. I remarked that there ought to be debate about the fact that corn kernels need not be used, but rather, the waste parts of the plant, known as stover, ought to be in the ethanol vat while the kernels ought to be reserved for the grocers.

Looking over the blog  ‘hempforvictory’, I was reminded that this debate has been going on for decades. In the very first year of posting, 2006, I wrote about a New York Times article which expressed the same concerns as Carlson. Most US readers would note that the NYT and Fox News are at opposite ends of the political rainbow. 

Bipartisan concern happens when a nation is faced with a rise in food prices; we all need to eat, democrat or republican. At that time the rise in a bushel of corn went from $2.00 to $2.10. This sharing of ideas from both sides of the aisle did some good, and the NYT article, by Matthew Wald, suggested that we reduce our driving. Decades later one sees SUVs everywhere, but less on the road as it is costing so much to get them going.

In 2007, corn was again in the news, as a new breed entered the market:  MON863, a genetically modified corn approved for use in Australia, Canada, the Philippines, the EU and the US. It has a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Researchers were finding effects including liver damage and hormonal changes.

The debate on the issue of corn vs. hemp had a new angle to it. No hemp on the market, by the way, has been genetically modified. This was a hotter issue in the EU, where I was working, than in the US (to which I returned in 2009). 

Discussion about using corn, and possibly hemp, as an energy source, continued all over the world. There were food riots in 2007 in Mexico, due to the rise in the price of a bushel, with most leaders missing a major point: the fact that farm waste could be used to produce energy, while leaving the edible parts of a crop for the plate. Jonathan Watts in the Guardian that year talked about biofuel production as if it were an enemy to food production, while George Monbiot of the same paper thought that the waste parts of these plants were most suitable as fertilizer. Clearly journalists did not do a lot of research into economic botany and the public was being given sound bytes, not facts.

This situation continued for years; in 2011 the NYT, along with other US papers, most quoting from the Associated Press, again noted the use of the entire corn plant for ethanol. The story also pointed out that corn is used in high fructose corn syrup and junk food, a fact that might well be noted by those interested in making policies to ensure a steady, and healthy, food supply. Rarely if at all noted in these articles on corn was any mention of the amount of water used in its growth, which is significantly more than that of hemp. 

That same year a major article appeared on the front page of the NYT business section informing the reader that US farmers were dedicating more land than ever to cotton – due to a rise in cotton prices. This would mean of course less land for food, with a resultant rise in prices. The author, William Neumann, quotes farmer Ramon Vela, of the Texas panhandle, as saying he would plant 1,100 acres of cotton that year, up from 210 the previous year. The panhandle had not been a traditional cotton belt, but new strains of cotton that worked well there made cotton very popular. Too popular, and it is now a monocrop in some areas of North Texas. The state grew over one million acres, while the US grew 10.8 acres, and was expected to grow 12.8 acres of this crop by 2012 of ‘King Cotton.”

As it floods the market, it empties the reservoir; it is a thirsty crop, though it takes less water than corn. Texas growers that year had to tap into the Ogallala Aquifer, which was already getting depleted.

Had we grown hemp, this would not be – and hemp is both a food and a textile crop, which uses less water than either corn or cotton. But in that year hemp was still not legal in Texas.

Cannabis herb and leaves for treatment.Buds. Skunk. cbd, hemp buds and money,Closeup of assorted American banknotes.World economic crisis associated with coronovirus.

Now it is time to figure out its place in the state, and national, economy. Presently the major uses of Cannabis sativa are recreational and medicinal. It could play a much larger role in the US economy, without changing production in its present role. The stalks of hemp are raw material for energy, reducing the need for corn, but also of importance they are a raw material for paper.  If all these stalks were pulped and matted into any form of paper – as I have written about already in the Texas Hemp Reporter – we could retrieve the US paper industry. Presently most paper is produced in Southeast Asia, where trees are felled to the detriment of the environment. 

These issues have been simmering in my mind for decades, and I can see that most politicians and journalists are wasting our time. Both ought to take courses in farming before they are allowed to plow the fields of politics, which field that I feel obliged to enter. One of my major reasons or this is to sow common sense into the debate so that the basis of our economy, that is, I repeat in closing what I noted in my opening, agriculture, will be managed properly.

Which may not seem like a major issue in the 13th Congressional District of New York State (Upper Manhattan and part of the Bronx)  but is one which does affect everyone. Should farming in Texas become inefficient, the residents of every US city will feel it. I will have to run as a write-in candidate, with no party affiliation, against an incumbent with ties to Big Pharma. Other issues, of course, will be in my campaign, including the creation of a tidal turbine in the East River (to reduce dependency on petroleum while introducing a green energy initiative) and the improvement of the NYC education system (which is currently very bad). 

Should I win the seat, the House will be hearing more about hemp, along with other agricultural issues, for which I aim to achieve bipartisan support. On rare occasion, this has been known to happen, especially when people are faced with food scarcity.

Hopefully, that will not be the case. 

Ken Gibson

New York City

America, Russia, Hemp and the Ukraine

Russia, the Ukraine, the United States and hemp have long had an interesting relationship. John Quincy Adams, as the American Minister in St. Petersburg, wrote an article on the culture and preparation of hemp in Russia. This he penned in 1810, 14 years before winning one of the most contentious elections in history to take up residence in the White House.

In his day, navies ruled the seas, and Russia was the number one provider of hemp to the maritime powers. Countries like Britain needed vast supplies of rope and sail to stay afloat. A 1797 record of its hemp purchases states that “no less than 40,000 tonnes” were imported from Russia.

Napoleon saw fit to thwart Britannia’s rule by making an agreement with the Czar that he would sell no hemp to the ‘rosbifs’. The French and Russian rulers had often been at odds, but after meeting on a raft in the middle of the Neman River, they found common ground when Napoleon I told Alexander I that he hated the British as much as he; the Russian replied “with those words we will ever be friends.” That was in 1807. By 1812, the beautiful friendship had come to an end over the issue of hemp, which the Russians were selling secretly to France’s enemy. Ships with flags other than the Union Jack would purchase this staple and then transport it to London and Liverpool. Napoleon was not fooled by the ruse, but rather, enraged; he ordered his troops to invade Moscow in the fall. They came to the city, followed by an early winter. The unusually cold weather, along with the Russian swordsmen, deprived France of 500,000 men. Invasions often don’t work out.

At that time, the Ukraine was included in Russia, and took part in the cultivation of hemp. During the Russian Revolution era, it made a bid for independence, going so far as to issue its own stamps. None of them were ever put to use, as the Ukraine’s autonomy was cut short and it remained a part of Mother Russia.  After the Bolshevik Revolution, Glokhiv, a city in the Ukraine, became home to the Institute of Bast Crops. Founded in 1931, when the Ukraine was part of the CCCP, it was renamed in 1992; presently it is known as the Institute of Bast Crops of the Ukrainian Institute of Bast Crops. With the guidance of that institution, hemp production reached a peak of 974,000 hectares under cultivation in 1960. But as world demand decreased, that figure dwindled to 60,000 hectares in 1993. By which date, the Ukraine was an independent nation. Again, it issued its own stamps, which have been in use ever since.

As for hemp, the Ukraine has been providing the world with hemp products including oil, which, until this past month, was available in New York.

There is concern that all Ukrainian and Russian hemp products will not be available here. And that concern is not limited to hemp products. The Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe and sells much to Asia and Africa. Soybeans, wheat, maize, honey, buckwheat, rye, barley and other staples – along with fertilizer – are expected to be in short supply.

The world turns its eyes on these northern nations for basic supplies, as it did for centuries in the case of what was once the world’s most traded commodity – hemp.

Which can be grown quite well outside of the frigid regions of the north. The American south, Texas included, grew hemp. Kentucky led the nation in this effort, and cotton growers even sowed hemp before planting cotton to rid the fields of pests.

But despite the widespread US cultivation of hemp, Yankees paid top dollar for Russian. Which led to a lively debate in the House, where it was explained that Russian hemp was processed to a higher grade, allowing it to be of use to the US Navy. Practicality prevailed over patriotism. The attempt of some congressmen to impose sanctions on Russian imports failed.

Britain also paid a top price to the Czar, of which then Duke of Wales (later King George IV) expressed concern in 1810. At that time over 5 million pounds sterling were spent on Russia’s hemp. More attention to this issue was paid by Lord Somerville, but since transport costs by ship from Riga and St. Petersburg were much less than domestic overland transport costs, Moscow continued to hold the West to ransom over hemp, until the day of steam and metal ships made hempen sails redundant. A further reduction in hemp demand for the navies occurred when Manila hemp, or abaca, was found to work well in rope production.

Russia, and the Ukraine, have since found other products that occasion debate in Western parliaments. In place of ships laden with hemp, Russia has pipelines pumping energy to most UE nations, while the Ukraine, which produces a major percentage of the world’s neon, used in semi-conductors, causes major concern in manufacturing circles. Its fate affects us all.

Farmers everywhere prepare for a bad situation. Hopefully, the Ukraine will be able to sow its fields this spring so that wheat, maize, sunflowers, rye and barley will be available to the world, and along with these staples, коноплі, as hemp is called in that land, will also be included in the harvest for 2022.


NYC 2021

While writing Hemp for Victory, I was presented with stories about hemp growing 30′ tall. However, there is scant, if any, record of this. Not that it isn’t true, or entirely lacking witness thereof. One account of super tall hemp that I found was in a German language pamphlet on hemp cultivation in Nepal from 1914. From personal observation, I found that most grew 6-10′ tall. The Chameleon variety that I saw in England, and all the rest that grew there, and in Europe at the time of my writing, were at best 8′ tall.

Lyster Dewey of the US Department of Agriculture in 1913 wrote that it grew 1-5 meters. I noted all of this and gave 25′ as a possible height.

Last month I got a call from Mina Hegaard telling me that in California, Wade Atteberry stated that the team at the Riverdale Hemp Factory had surpassed such figures.

Talking to Atteberry, I was able to confirm that. They had measured some at 24′ 1 5/8”. He also had measurements for the stems, some of which were up to 2 ½” across. Similar records of thick stems exist from Berti’s 1657 La Coltivazzione delle Canape and an 1839 record from Rev. Daniel Smith. Berti gives a thickness of 3 7/8” while Smith writes that it was over 3”.

With a credible record to work with, I picked his brain to find out how he they made a skyscraper out of Cannabis sativa. First, there was the variety:Yu Ma,  a Chinese land race strain, that Larry Serbin of Hemp Traders had procured from his Asian trading partners.

Mike  McGuire, Tom Pires, Patrick Flaherty and Tony de Veyra who were involved in this project, decided to use this as a learning experience; they sowed seed 4” apart in one plot, and 6” apart in another, then watched them shoot up in the San Joaquin heat. The thermometer there registered up to 108 degrees F, some days a constant of 106-108 degrees F. Irrigation did not exceed 17 inches of water per acre (note that cotton uses about 24-30” of water per acre).

The taller specimens were not however harvested at the end of the season, but left to continue their growth well after the season.

For some application, such as seed and CBD, this is counterproductive. The plant uses more energy, water and time to grow.

But for those selling the cellulose, this greatly multiplies the yield. The cellulose in the bast can be used for paper, cordage or textiles. I have been writing lately about paper, as this is a good start, giving the farmer a product that is not too demanding to grow, but for which there is constant demand. And not just bast, but hurds as well, in contrast to cordage and textiles, can be used for paper. Wade explained that the softer hurds are more absorbent, and while they might not make the best writing paper, they have applications in paper towels and art paper; and next time you squeeze the Charmin you just might be pressing on hurds. Dewey wrote about making hemp paper from hurds ca. 1917.

But Wade and the team at the Riverdale Hemp Factory were not selling this for pulp. They had higher ideals: textile production and building materials.

The bast that they got from these stalks received top grades. It will be shipped to China for processing, and we await more results.

This is a personal victory, or at least partial victory for me, as I have always been pushing for hemp to be grown and processed in the US. Minawear Hemp Clothing, which I founded with my sister in 1999, had to buy Chinese hemp, and I once complained about this to Serbin. Had the laws been different in the US at the time, he could have made these moves a long time ago. Now that the federal government gives each state the right to decide on the legality of hemp, we have made some headway.

With 25′ tall plants, we have much larger cellulose yields. For which I hope that we will have paper mills going full steam in the United States, and that the paper industry, which was in the last century much a part of the economy, employing over a million Americans, will be back in business.

Since Atteberry, Serbin,  McGuire, Pires, Flaherty and de Veyra have focused on bast production for textiles, the hemp industry in the US has taken a step further than paper, which has been my focus in this and the two previous articles.

And while improving hemp’s market as a textile, they have at the same time improved hemp’s market as paper pulp, in that the hurds not made into shirts and trousers are in greater supply and more readily available to the paper mills.

Expect more jobs to be created as the Riverdale Hemp Factory and partners continue their research on industrial hemp. And no shortage of Charmin in the supermarket aisles