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Sustainable Agricultural Practices For Hemp Farmers
Hemp production has long been touted by agricultural industry advocates as a way to replenish the soil in which it is grown and by extension the ecosystems around it. But just like any other crop, hemp requires water and nutrients in order to thrive, and it also attracts pests. Lately, hemp has been gaining attention from farmers in the traditional commodity sector, as it could potentially be lucrative for broadacre field production.
This does not sound so bad on the surface, but the growing popularity of hemp could spell trouble for the places where it takes root. It would be far too easy for hemp to follow in the footsteps of the crops that came before it and contribute to the ruination of the land where it is cultivated. This potential catastrophe could take the form of mass erosion, soil contamination, groundwater pollution, or a combination of all three. The impacts of these events would be felt for generations to come.
How to Prevent Hemp From Becoming Mass Produced
So what can be done to prevent hemp from becoming a mass-produced, nutrient-sucking problem? Sustainable agricultural practices hold the answer, and luckily many of these solutions are easy for hemp farmers to implement. For example, hemp’s recent change in legal status means farmers are now eligible for federal programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These include conservation programs to combat soil erosion, improving water quality, and increasing wildlife habitats. Some also aim to reduce damage caused by floods and other natural disasters, and there are funding opportunities available via the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service as well.
Applying For Organic Hemp Certification
Another USDA program worth applying for is Organic Certification. This program allows hemp farmers to seek official certification for their crops providing they adhere to strict parameters. This means that once farmers get their certification, they can then market their crops as organic and most likely sell more. Organics have seen a boom recently, and it is important to remember that hemp grown organically is more environmentally friendly because it is grown without chemicals.
Growing Hemp Without chemicals
But how can hemp be grown without chemicals and still produce healthy crops if it attracts pests? There is a simple yet ingenious answer, and it is something that a lot of people do not know: Hemp is naturally resistant to both weeds and insects. It grows so robustly that if an insect does happen to eat a leaf, there are usually new plants growing the next day to compensate. This is excellent news, as the usage of chemical pesticides can potentially create stronger pests that are resistant to treatment. If some mitigation is necessary, substances such as alcohols, copper sulfate, and hydrogen peroxide are all organic approved and not harmful to the environment.
While “sustainable” is often the go-to word for eco-friendly practices, “regenerative” takes it a few steps further. While sustainable farming is generally defined as meeting society’s present needs for food and textiles without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same, regenerative farming is much more intensive about regenerating nutrients and biodiversity where crops are grown. In the case of hemp farming, regenerative practices allow for better and cleaner plants that can do more to restore the areas in which they are grown.
Hemp lends itself well to regenerative farming, in large part because of its ability to absorb carbon so efficiently. Hemp is more effective than trees at capturing carbon dioxide, and it enriches whatever soil it is planted in. But there are other ways to return carbon to the soil, and it is important to explore them all. One of the easiest methods is composting, and we have already covered the elimination of chemicals in order to achieve organic certification.
Using Cover Crops
The utilization of cover crops and rotational crops such as alfalfa or vetch can help to restore nitrogen from that atmosphere, of which hemp is a heavy user. Unfortunately because the industrial way of producing nitrogen is hydraulic fracturing, even an organic crop grown with synthetic fertilizers has the potential to pollute waterways. It is best to avoid chemicals entirely, and instead take care of the soil so that it works smarter, not harder.
In order to adhere to regenerative farming standards, the soil in question must not be foreign potting soil but natural soil instead. In order to cultivate a better environment for planting, farmers must commit to building up their soil culture with organic amendments. This will allow for an increase in biodiversity and an enhancement of the complete ecosystem surrounding the farm, including watersheds.
Harvesting Rainwater for Sustainable Hemp Production
The subject of water allows for another regenerative farming technique that can be applied to hemp cultivation is the implementation of a rainwater harvesting system. These systems make the most of the water that falls from the sky and promotes the health of the groundwater. This is also beneficial to wildlife corridors and the restoration of habitats, which enriches the ecosystem around the farm.
Grazing Animals and Hemp Production
Wildlife is not the only classification of animal that can be positively affected by regenerative farming practices. Bringing in animals to graze and tend to any weeds that happen to crop up naturally is the perfect alternative to using chemicals on or near hemp plants. Their waste acts as an organic fertilizer and consuming plants that have not been treated with chemical pesticides is beneficial to the animals as well.
Regenerative Farming Helps the Community
A potentially unexpected benefit that these ecologically focused practices can have is a positive impact on the communities in which hemp farmers reside. By keeping their agriculture as simple as possible, they open the door to resource and skill sharing from neighboring farmers. This can potentially have a positive impact on other small farms, as well as the businesses who sell their products.
To close things out, it is crucial that hemp farmers implement sustainable and regenerative practices as soon as possible. Any fields that mass produce conventional crops are practically void of nutrients, and it can take three to five years for these practices to replenish the soil. It will take all of us working together to achieve a bright future not just for hemp farming, but for the world.