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A Promising New Crop

Industrial hemp is worth a look:
it once was cultivated in Iowa.

Score one for the Iowa House Agriculture Committee.  This week it approved a bill to authorize Iowa State University to research the possible return of hemp to the Iowa farm scene, a proven crop with a proven market and a proven propensity to thrive in the rich Iowa soil.

Industrial hemp is of the same species as marijuana, but without the same psychoactive impact when dried and smoked.  It was grown extensively in Iowa during World War II as a source of rope; remnants of those crops remain in some field corners and ditches.  Its cultivation was declared illegal after the war, and remains that way, regardless of how far removed the industrial version may be from its hallucinogenic cousin.

It could be a valuable addition to the Iowa crop picture.

Other Nations grow it to make cloth and paper as well as rope.  Half a century ago, the USDA estimated that it takes four acres of trees to produce the paper that can be made from one acre of industrial hemp.  The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that hemp is a good rotation crop and thrives under a variety of conditions.  The tough, tall plant holds its own against insects and weed infestations.

Surprisingly, a call to ISU, whose specialists tend to be well on top of developments in their fields, indicated that few within the Agronomy Department were up to speed on this one.  Strange, considering the lip service given to the importance of exploring alternative crop opportunities.

A legislative call for research is timely and appropriate.

The Des Moines Register
Wednesday, March 12, 1997, Page 12A.

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This page last updated on 16 April 1999.