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More evidence hemp an attractive crop
Esther Wissbaum, who was one day past 100 years old when she died last May, is fondly remembered by her friends and family. That includes U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, who said she became a surrogate mother figure after his own mother's death, and whom she defended on this page. At the Gazette, we remember her for her tireless, no-nonsense promotion of industrial hemp as a promising agricultural product for our area.
In fact, only 17 days before her death, we printed her last Open Forum letter, lamenting Gov. Heineman's reluctance to support industrial hemp in the state.
Mrs. Wissbaum's letter lauded hemp fibers' strength and other qualities making it desirable for designers, its ability to be grown on marginal land and need for less water and fewer pesticides than cotton.
She emphasized that she didn't favor legalized marijuana, noting that industrial hemp had very low levels of psychoactive chemicals.
Most pot growers, in fact, wouldn't want industrial hemp anywhere near their crop, for fear it would cross breed and dilute the potency of their product.
Now comes more evidence that Mrs. Wissbaum was on to something.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that industrial hemp is a great crop to grow if you want to produce biodiesel. Hemp has a 97 percent conversion efficiency, and lab tests indicate it might be used at lower temperatures than any biodiesel now on the market.
One of the researchers, Richard Pamas, a professor of chemical, materials and biomolecular engineering at UConn, makes many of the same points expressed by Mrs. Wissbaum.
We shouldn't be forced to choose between using land for food or fuel, Pamas said, noting cannabis sativa's ability to grow like a "weed" in many parts of the world, leaving prime farmland open for food crops like soybeans, olives, peanuts and rapeseed.
Hemp seeds, which are often discarded in industrial production, could be put to use by turning them into fuel.
"If someone is already growing hemp, they might be able to produce enough fuel to power their whole farm with the oil from the seeds they produce," Pamas told the gizmag.com online magazine. "The fact that a hemp industry already exists means that a hemp biodiesel industry would need little additional investment," he said.
Industrial hemp production isn't likely to be legalized in America any time soon, so other countries where it is legal are in a position to benefit from it first.
If irrigation is curtailed along the Republican River as much as some fear, however, crops that grow easily in our area, require no supplemental water and few chemicals -- like industrial hemp -- will be an attractive alternative.