Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the fields? -- Henry Ford
It's fairly sound and common business practice to diversify your business operations to some extent. We've applied for a licence from the NSW government to grow industrial hemp. A Free Software company branching into agriculture may seem a fairly extreme stretch but there are solid reasons to take this diversification direction.
Should our application be successfull, the first season's crop field will only be 50m x 50m. A small field that will be low in capital expenditure and man hours to establish and maintain. The small but segmented field will allow us to perform trials aimed at fine tuning methods of commerciallising different aspects of industrial hemp before planting significant hectares of commercial volumes in the following season.
Another consideration in industrial hemps favour is the low maintenance of the crop, it's hardy nature and ability to grow in even the most unsuitable soils. There is also the low water usage which is a significant consideration. Here are some of the commercial applications we intend produce industrial hemp for:
The hempseed is the only source of food from the hemp plant. It is not really a seed, but an achene -a nut covered with a hard shell. Hempseed is used for people and animal food, and industrial use.
The whole seed contains roughly 25% protein, 30% carbohydrates, 15% insoluble fiber, Carotene, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc, as well as vitamins E, C, B1, B2, B3, B6. Hempseed is one of the best source of Essential Fatty Acids with a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linolenic Acid, good for strengthening the immune system. It is also a source of Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA) which is otherwise available only from specialty oils like evening primrose oil or borage oils. Whole seeds are made into: snack bars, cookies, and porridge, or they may be roasted and consumed alone or in a trail mix, or brewed with coffee or beer. Wild and domestic birds love hempseeds too.
Removing the outer coating of the hempseed produces a wonderful nut that is being used in many different food applications, including snack bars, cookies, nutbutter, chips, pasta, tortillas, and hummus. The flavor is nutty and can be used as a topping on just about anything. It can be roasted with spices or just eaten raw.
Hempseed is 30% oil, and is low in saturated fats. Hempseed oil is good for lowering cholesterol levels and strengthening cardiovascular systems. The oil has a pleasantly nutty flavor. Among the foods hempseed oil is made into are: sauces, butter, salad dressings, condiments and pesto. Processing of hempseed oil starts with drying the seeds to prevent sprouting. The seeds are then pressed and bottled immediately under oxygen-free conditions. Hempseed oil is fragile and should be kept refrigerated in dark, air tight containers.
The meat of the seed is also highly nutritious and versatile as a seed 'meal" and may be made into hemp milk and cheese, non-dairy ice cream, burgers, and anything else one might conceive of. Left over from pressing the oil is the 'presscake" -high in amino acids, which can be crushed for animal feed or pulverized for flour to make breads, pastas or pancakes.
Throughout history, hemp has provided a nourishing food supply to many cultures around the world. In Asia, roasted hempseed is eaten as a snack, like popcorn. In Russia, hemp butter was used as a condiment by the peasant folk. In Poland, seeds are used for holiday sweets. Hempseed was eaten by Australians during two famines in the nineteenth century.
One of the fastest growing market sectors for hempseed oil is body care products. The phenomenal essential fatty acid content of hemp oil makes it ideal as a topical ingredient in both leave-on and rinse-off bodycare products. The EFA's help soothe and restore skin in lotions and creams, and give excellent emolliency and smooth after-feel to lotions, lipbalms, conditioners, shampoos, soaps and shaving products.
Other non-food uses for hempseed oil are: lamp lighting, printing, lubrication, and household detergents, stain removers, varnishes, resins and paints. In this area, hempseed oil is similar to linseed oil.
One of the most valuable parts of the hemp plant is the fiber, commonly referred to as "bast," meaning that it grows as a stalk from the ground. Other fibers such as sisal, manila hemp and jute are mistakenly referred to as hemp, yet only Cannabis sativa is considered "true hemp." Among the characteristics of hemp fiber are its superior strength and durability, and its resistance to rot, attributes that made hemp integral to the shipping industry. The strong, woody bast fiber is extracted from the stalk by a process known as decortication. Hemp fiber contains a low amount of lignin, the organic glue that binds plant cells, which allows for environmentally friendly bleaching without the use of chlorine. In composite form, hemp is twice as strong as wood. All products made with hemp fiber are biodegradable.
Extracted from the bark of the stalk, this type of fiber is called "long" because it stretches the entire length of the plant. The length of the fiber enhances the strength and durability of the finished goods. Hemp can grow to 15 feet or more, making it excellent for textile production. Hemp is most similar to flax, the fiber of linen products. By contrast, cotton fibers are approximately 1-2 cm in length and are prone to faster wear. Hemp fiber also has insulative qualities that allow clothing wearers to stay cool in summer and warm in the winter. It also provides UV protection. Long hemp fiber is used in twine, cordage, textiles, paper, webbing and household goods.
The short fibers, or 'tow," are the secondary hemp fibers. While not as strong as the long fibers, the tow is still superior to many other fibers. Tow is extracted from the long fibers during a process called 'hackling," a method of combing and separating the fiber from hurd. Short fibers are used to make textiles, non-woven matting, paper, caulking, auto bodies, building materials and household goods.
As long ago as 450 BC the Scythians and Thracians made hemp linens. The Chinese first used hemp for paper making in 100 AD. Hempen sails, caulking and rigging launched a thousand ships during the Age of discovery in the 15th Century. The American Declaration of Independence was drafted, not signed, on hemp paper.
Also known as hurds or shives, the core is the woody material found in the center of the hemp stalk. It is rich in cellulose, a carbohydrate that can be made into paper, packaging and building materials, as well as plastic composites for making skate boards and auto bodies and interior parts such as door panels and luggage racks.
Hemp biomass as a source of fuel is the most under-exploited use of hemp, due to the fact that is economically unfeasible at this time. Hemp stalks can be used in the generation of energy through a process called 'chemurgy" which is a cross between chemicals and energy. The hemp stalk can be converted to a charcoal-like substance through a process called pyrolysis, and used for power generation and to produce industrial feed stocks. Auto giant Henry Ford was a pioneer in the pyrolysis process, and operated a biomass pyrolytic plant at Iron Mountain in Northern Michigan.
Hemp as an auto fuel is another potential use. Almost any biomass material can be converted to create methanol or ethanol, and these fuels burn cleanly with less carbon monoxide and higher octane. In fact, the diesel engine was invented to burn fuel from agricultural waste yet ended up burning unrefined petroleum. Hempseed oil can also be refined to produce a type of hemp biofuel. Woody Harrelson just toured with a diesel bus run on hemp biofuel, and a hempcar is touring this summer, demonstrating the environmental benefits of biofuels.
As you can see from the above, there are a number of significant uses for this product and global demand is rising. Currently the NSW government has issued not one commercial production licence. It is our intention, after a successful trial licence, to become the first commercial producers of industrial hemp in NSW. Not only will our operations be diversified by an extremely productive cash crop that is inexpensive to produce but we will be in a position of significant advantage in primary production.
For now it's a baby step.