Source of “Hemp = 4x More Fiber Than Trees”

Most of the hemp memes circulating are uncited so I investigate to see from whence they come, and thus their accuracy. That “hemp produces 300 gallons of oil and 8,000 pounds of seed per acre” one is the worst, it’s more like 35 gallons and 1,500 pounds if you’re lucky. I don’t ask for a citation because I know they don’t have it and I prefer research only unavoidably biased by me and not also someone else.

So then, this is the source of the “Hemp produces 4.1 more fiber per acre than trees” meme:

1916 Bulletin 404, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Hemp Hurds as Paper-Making Material

By Lyster H. Dewey, Botanist in Charge of Fiber-Plant Investigations, and Jason L. Merrill, Paper-Plant Chemist and Paper-Plant Investigations

This bulletin is printed on paper manufactured from hemp hurds”

While today the hurd (small, short inner fiber found at 5 times higher levels than the bast fiber in the hemp stalk) is prized for use in building materials and elsewhere, in 1916 USDA considered hemp hurd to be a low-value waste material. Note that this might be where HempFlax got the idea for using their hurd for animal bedding in the 1990s:

[…] [On page 4 is:]

Hemp hurds are used to a limited extent for barnyard litter and
stable bedding, as a substitute for sawdust in packing ice, and, in
rare instances, for fuel. They are not regarded as having a commercial value for any of these uses, though they are doubtless worth at least $1 per ton on the farm when used for stable bedding. They are a waste product, without value for other purposes which might compete with their use for paper stock.”

The decorticators of the time discarded hurd as waste, a nuisance byproduct. That’s why realizing that hurd could be used to make paper was important at the time, just before supplies of wood for paper were dwindling. Note that they are using a sustainable forest for this comparison, not a clear-cut:

[…] [On page 24 is:]

“TABLE II.-Comparison between wood and hemp hurds.

The most important point derived from this calculation is in regard to areas required for a sustained supply, which are in the ratio of 4 to 1. Every tract of 10,000 acres which is devoted to hemp raising year by year is equivalent to a sustained pulp-producing capacity of 40,500 acres of average pulp-wood lands. In other words, in order to secure additional raw material for the production of 25 tons of fiber per day there exists the possibility of utilizing the agricultural waste already produced on 10,000 acres of hemp lands instead of securing, holding, reforesting, and protecting 40,500 acres of pulp-wood land.

The annual growth per acre, although decidedly in favor of hurds,
has little bearing on the project, because the utilization of the hurds is subordinate to the raising of hemp, and the paper manufacturer probably could afford to use only hurds resulting from the hemp industry.”

Click here to download a free PDF of this document.

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