Hemp — A Game Changer for Regenerative Industries
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
This article was written exclusively for Regennabis. Visit Regennabis on the web at: https://regennabis.com/
The current agricultural system is “based on the killing.” According to North Dakota rancher Gabe Brown, who has become known internationally for his expertise in Regenerative Agriculture. Herbicides destroy invasive weeds, while Fungicides and Pesticides kill off unwanted disease. However, it is these herbicides that leave plants unable to absorb necessary metals and necessitate fungicides and pesticides to ward off illness. And, it is those very fungicides and pesticides that kill off nutrients in the soil, necessitating synthetic fertilizers, which encourage weeds, which then require the use of herbicides to keep them at bay. It is a never-ending, expensive, and environmentally toxic cycle.
Regenerative Agriculture instead focuses on maintaining soil health by mimicking nature’s preexistent growth cycle. Farmer Brown suggests five essential rules for this: minimizing mechanical and chemical disturbance, armoring the soil with constantly decomposing plant matter on top, promoting biodiversity over mono-cultures, leaving living roots in the soil, and using animals as nature intended by letting them live amongst crops.
There is a crop that can enact many of Farmer Brown’s very principles, however, that often goes unmentioned: hemp. As the crop breaks through in the fashion, biodiesel, and packaged food industries, it’s also sprouting up in crop rotations across the US. That is because cannabis sativa, with its shady canopy, deep root network, and ability to ‘clean’ the soil of harmful chemicals, might help farmers transition to regenerative practices faster than any other cash crop.
Hemp “seems like one of those crops that is necessary for our food systems to really work properly” says Brittany Ferguson, Vice President of Corporate Values at Texas hemp genetics, bio-controls, bio-chemicals and concentrated flower company Oso Vega. With a mission of “ensuring quality that goes beyond the bottom line,” the company is founded on sustainable principles of organic farming and social equity. She talked to us a little bit about what hemp could mean for the future of Regenerative Agriculture, and what her company is doing to make it happen.
First, compared to other crops, Hemp requires notably less water and nutrients from the soil. It also has properties as a phytoremediator, absorbing pesticides and heavy metals already in the soil. As such, hemp begins to reverse the toxic cycle created by monocultures. Planting a round of hemp in between rounds of corn, a crop for which most farmers are using an excess of chemicals, for example, can produce corn yields with much higher nutrient density. “It’s going to soak up all the bad and help replenish so much of the good” Brittany says current research suggests. “We don’t have a lot of plants that do that.”
Second, the plant can help facilitate biodiversity in crop rotations. With deep, sometimes nine-foot-deep roots and quick growth, hemp can be used to prevent soil erosion when included in crop rotations. Because of its height, diversifying fields with hemp can also create shade, lock in moisture, and provide a habitat for wildlife that helps fertilize the soil.
Most importantly perhaps, Hemp also absorbs carbon from the ecosystem, or ‘upcycles’ the element. In fact, with hemp’s rapid growth, Australian research done by the company GoodEarth Resources has suggested it can absorb and store as much as 8.9 tonnes of carbon per acre of hemp in just four months. Though she cautions that more research needs to be done, especially in the US, Brittany says that “this is huge, when, as a regenerative farmer, you’re actually looking to give back more to the earth than what you took from it.” She adds that, in the next decade (if not sooner), farmers could be paid for the carbon they store — making hemp an even more profitable and attractive crop to grow.
But sustainability isn’t just about the environment — in fact, at least six of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are about people working in the industry. In America, suicide rates amongst men in the agricultural community have increased 50% since the 1980s farm crisis, largely due to increasingly volatile weather patterns, drops in commodity pricing, and a lack of financial safety net. Now, male suicides in the agricultural community are twice as high as the rest of America, with thousands of farmers living off government subsidies rather than profit.
For those people, quick-growing and soil-restoring hemp can provide a lot of hope. Though switching to a new crop with harsh regulations comes with a lot of risk, the possibility of higher payouts and better, more nutrient-rich harvests of other crops they grow is worth it. “I think a lot of farmers are saying ‘do I want to continue and do the same things and make the same margins, or do I want to take that risk?’” suggests Brittany.
Oso Vega is doing their part to help hemp farmers with two impact programs, The Hemp Family Fund and the At The Heart of Hemp initiative, soon to be a certified nonprofit. The Hemp Family Fund reduces some of the risk on young farmers entering the hemp industry by providing them with tools to manage potential risks like proper education and training, frequent THC monitoring tests, one to three acres of land and 100% seed financing. At The Heart of Hemp, on the other hand, provides support for families dealing with suicide through a scholarship fund. “Our farmers are the backbone of this economy. They are the reason for our survival,” says Brittany.
Though hemp presents a great deal of opportunity, it does come with some unique risks — depending on state regulations, crops with too high a THC percentage have to be destroyed. This can exacerbate mental health issues in the community when farmers are convinced that hemp is a “gold rush cash crop,” encouraged to risk their livelihoods without having the proper research and data to yield significant profits. Oso Vega’s First Year Farmer Program and Hemp Family Fund are thus interrelated — providing more security for first time hemp farmers lowers the risk of mental health problems, too. “If you take on a new crop you are risking everything you have, and so much is out of your control,” says Brittany. “We thought, if we can come in and make recommendations based on our research and data on the soil and seed genetics, can we take the risk out of making those decisions?”
Though Brittany concedes that there is much more research that needs to be conducted on hemp for us to fully verify its regenerative benefits, the prospects for the environment, economy, and the welfare of farmers and laborers are bright. Oso Vega is one of the major companies forging the way for hemp to be an accessible, sustainable option for the agricultural space. And in addition to already having two major impact programs, the brand will be participating as a part of the Regennabis Member Network. To Brittany, collaboration between Oso Vega and other purpose-driven brands is essential to realizing the sustainable impact hemp can have. “When we come together and use our different strengths, leadership, and techniques, together, we’re going to have so much more success as a collaborative whole.”
Hemp is a useful tool for more than just farming. The plant’s ability to survive in infertile soil, combined with having energy-packed seeds, make it an affordable biofuel with a 97% biodiesel conversion rate, for example. Fabrics made from hemp fiber, with UV-protective and antibacterial properties, are providing fashion brands worldwide with a new story to tell their consumers. Hemp seeds are becoming a major nutritional trend, too, as they are rich in omega-3 and -6 acids, plant-based protein, and compounds like gamma-linolenic acid and arginine, which reduce the risk of heart disease.
Brittany will be talking more about Oso Vega and the importance of hemp in Regenerative Agriculture during the upcoming webinar, “Hemp — a Game Changer for Regenerative Industries.” Join us to learn more about how hemp is giving farming a whole new life.
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