Regenerative Ag: Healing the Planet with Hemp
The world as we know it is experiencing a time of great transformation. Climate change is now considered a major public health emergency by leading scientists around the world. The world needs a multifaceted approach to combat climate change, and one important way to do so is through radical adjustments to farming practices. According to a 2019 report from the U.N. Environment Programme, agriculture is currently the planet’s largest form of land use, occupying 40% of the earth’s surface and responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. Regenerative agriculture is a holistic system of farming principles that could change these trends. It seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem, actually “improving the resources it uses, rather than depleting them.”
Regenerative agriculture is unique in its ability to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to also capture them through carbon sequestration, which is the longterm removal of carbon from the atmosphere. When plants photosynthesize, they take in carbon dioxide from the air and transform it into carbon that the plant uses to grow. The excess carbon created during this process is then transported through the plant and into the soil, where it can feed fungi and microbes, which in turn provides more nutrients for the plant. Carbon can remain stored in the soil for thousands of years or can be released back into the atmosphere through farming practices like plowing and tilling, in which soil is mechanically dug, stirred or turned. Project Drawdown, a global research organization that identifies, reviews and analyzes the most viable solutions to climate change, ranks regenerative agriculture as one of the top actions we can take to ensure we have a planet worth living on in the future.
Regenerative hemp farming offers hope for a brighter future amidst the challenges and uncertainty that we face today. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there has been a massive increase in hemp cultivation in the U.S. While the market is still nascent and unstable, that hasn’t stopped thousands of farmers all across the country from planting their first crops of hemp. Amongst those farmers, you will find a small but growing group of valiant, compassionate, intelligent farmers who are using the opportunity to grow hemp using the principles of regenerative agriculture, as hemp is a particularly well-suited crop for it. Almost all varieties of hemp are naturally resistant to pests and predators. Harmful pesticides that are typically used in mono-crop industrial agriculture needn’t be used, meaning hemp farms have become havens for pollinators like bees and small birds and animals.
Hemp is an important crop in the regenerative agriculture movement for a number of reasons.
Deep Roots: Despite it being an annual crop, its roots reach down into the soil, helping to hold it together, reducing erosion and also loosening the soil allowing more delicate plants to grow afterward in crop rotation.
Biomass: Some biomass will be harvested for CBD products (which is currently the most widely produced end product), and some of that biomass will return to the soil and decompose, feeding nutrients back into the ground.
Fast Growing: Hemp grows relatively quickly, making an excellent ground cover as the plants easily block out room for weeds. While most cover crops are not commercially valuable, hemp has a relatively high market value, making it a “win-win” for both the soil and the farmer. Scientists estimate that for every ton of hemp grown, 1.63 tons of CO2 is removed, making it ideally suited for carbon sequestration, even more than trees or other plants of similar size.
Bioremediation: Using plants to decontaminate soil and water after industrial pollution or after years of toxin build-up from industrial agriculture can restore the earth. Hemp can easily grow in contaminated soils, absorbing heavy metals and toxins into the plants themselves.
Low Water Consumption: Hemp is a relatively hardy plant, needing much less water than most crops. Food and agriculture are the largest consumers of water, requiring many times more than what we need for personal use. Up to 70% of the water taken from the ground and rivers goes into the irrigation of agricultural commodities. In some parts of the United States, agriculture literally threatens to dry up entire ecosystems, making low water consumptive crops essential in ecologically sustainable farming.
Diverse Applications: Did you know that there are over 50,000 known uses or applications for hemp? Ranging from medicine, food, biofuels, fiber, building materials, paper, textiles, clothing, to a viable replacement for plastics. Every single part of the plant has a useful purpose!
Regeneratively-grown hemp offers humanity the possibility of a beautiful and green new future. It may seem like an impossible dream from where we stand right now, but, just a decade ago, it was hard to imagine that hemp would even be legal, let alone that the cultivation of the plant would grow to over 230,000 acres in just the first season since the Farm Bill was passed!
Even if you are not a hemp farmer, you can directly take part in regenerative agriculture practices right at home, in your own backyards, through the reduction of unnecessary digging, mulching or adding composted organic matter to your soil, as well as using cover crops in your garden (or ground covering ornamental plants) to reduce soil erosion and improve soil structure. Not only is it good for the environment, getting your hands dirty is good for your health, too!
About Christina Sasser
Christina Sasser is the CEO, co-founder, and chief product formulator at Vital Leaf, a Portland, Oregon based wellness company that infuses the healing potential of regenerative hemp into their line of ethically sourced and sustainable products. She has been working in the natural products industry for over 15 years, and, before starting Vital Leaf, she was a holistic chef and nutrition educator.