Cultivation Consulting

Paul Baskis

Has a Master’s of Science degree in Plant and Soil Science from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.  He has extensive knowledge in Soil Science, Soil Microbiology, Plant Physiology, Greenhouse Management and Extraction Processes.  He has also a large knowledge base of Hemp cultivation and harvesting techniques that are ideal for processing into cannabinoids and production of high value fiber for paper, plastic fillers and for upgrading the fiber into high value chemicals and fuels. 

Hemp, or industrial hemp, typically found in the northern hemisphere, is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years (Wikipedia)

Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America*

Ernest Small and David Marcus

*This paper was considerably improved by criticism provided by A. McElroy.

“Hemp” refers primarily to Cannabis sativa L. (Cannabaceae), although the term has been applied to dozens of species representing at least 22 genera, often prominent fiber crops. For examples, Manila hemp (abaca) is Musa textilis Née, sisal hemp is Agave sisalina Perrine, and sunn hemp is Crotolaria juncea L. Especially confusing is the phrase “Indian hemp,” which has been used both for narcotic Asian land races of C. sativa (so-called C. indica Lamarck of India) and Apocynum cannabinum L., which was used by North American Indians as a fiber plant. Cannabis sativa is a multi-purpose plant that has been domesticated for bast (phloem) fiber in the stem, a multi-purpose fixed oil in the “seeds” (achenes), and an intoxicating resin secreted by epidermal glands. The common names hemp and marijuana (much less frequently spelled marihuana) have been applied loosely to all three forms, although historically hemp has been used primarily for the fiber cultigen and its fiber preparations, and marijuana for the drug cultigen and its drug preparations. The current hemp industry is making great efforts to point out that “hemp is not marijuana.” Italicized, Cannabis refers to the biological name of the plant (only one species of this genus is commonly recognized, C. sativa L.). Non-italicized, “cannabis” is a generic abstraction, widely used as a noun and adjective, and commonly (often loosely) used both for cannabis plants and/or any or all of the intoxicant preparations made from them.


Probably indigenous to temperate Asia, C. sativa is the most widely cited example of a “camp follower.” It was pre-adapted to thrive in the manured soils around man’s early settlements, which quickly led to its domestication (Schultes 1970). Hemp was harvested by the Chinese 8500 years ago (Schultes and Hofmann 1980). For most of its history, C. sativa was most valued as a fiber source, considerably less so as an intoxicant, and only to a limited extent as an oilseed crop. Hemp is one of the oldest sources of textile fiber, with extant remains of hempen cloth trailing back 6 millennia. Hemp grown for fiber was introduced to western Asia and Egypt, and subsequently to Europe somewhere between 1000 and 2000 BCE. Cultivation in Europe became widespread after 500 ce. The crop was first brought to South America in 1545, in Chile, and to North America in Port Royal, Acadia in 1606. The hemp industry flourished in Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois between 1840 and 1860 because of the strong demand for sailcloth and cordage (Ehrensing 1998). From the end of the Civil War until 1912, virtually all hemp in the US was produced in Kentucky. During World War I, some hemp cultivation occurred in several states, including Kentucky, Wisconsin, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, and Iowa (Ehrensing 1998). The second world war led to a brief revival of hemp cultivation in the Midwest, as well as in Canada, because the war cut off supplies of fiber (substantial renewed cultivation also occurred in Germany for the same reason). Until the beginning of the 19th century, hemp was the leading cordage fiber. Until the middle of the 19th century, hemp rivaled flax as the chief textile fiber of vegetable origin, and indeed was described as “the king of fiber-bearing plants,—the standard by which all other fibers are measured” (Boyce 1900). Nevertheless, the Marihuana Tax Act applied in 1938 essentially ended hemp production in the United States, although a small hemp fiber industry continued in Wisconsin until 1958. Similarly in 1938 the cultivation of Cannabis became illegal in Canada under the Opium and Narcotics Act.

Hemp, grown under license mostly in Canada, is the most publicized “new” crop in North America. Until very recently the prohibition against drug forms of the plant prevented consideration of cultivation of fiber and oilseed cultivars in Canada. However, in the last 10 years three key developments occurred: (1) much-publicized recent advances in the legal cultivation of hemp in western Europe, especially for new value-added products; (2) enterprising farmers and farm groups became convinced of the agricultural potential of hemp in Canada, and obtained permits to conduct experimental cultivation; and (3) lobby groups convinced the government of Canada that narcotic forms of the hemp plant are distinct and distinguishable from fiber and oilseed forms. In March 1998, new regulations (under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) were provided to allow the commercial development of a hemp industry in Canada, and since then more than a thousand licenses have been issued. Hectares licensed for cultivation for 1998–2001 were respectively, 2,500, 14,200, 5,487, and 1,355, the decreasing trend due to a glut of seed produced in 1999 and pessimism over new potential regulations barring exports to the US. Information on the commercial potential of hemp in Canada is in Blade (1998), Marcus (1998), and Pinfold Consulting (1998). In the US, a substantial trade in hemp products has developed, based on imports of hemp fiber, grain, and oil. The American agricultural community has observed this, and has had success at the state level in persuading legislators of the advisability of experimental hemp cultivation as a means of evaluating the wisdom of re-establishing American hemp production. However, because of opposition by the federal government, to date there has only been a small experimental plot in Hawaii. Information on the commercial potential of hemp in the US is presented in the following.

Cannabis sativa is extremely unusual in the diversity of products for which it is or can be cultivated. Popular Mechanics magazine (1938) touted hemp as “the new billion dollar crop,” stating that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.” Table 1 presents the principal products for which the species is cultivated in Europe, all of which happen to be based on fiber. This presentation stresses the products that hold the most promise for North America, which also include a considerable range of oilseed applications (Table 2; Fig. 1).

Table 1. Hemp fiber usage in the European Union in 1999 (after Karus et al. 2000).


Fig. 1. Major uses of industrial hemp.


Cannabis sativa is an annual wind-pollinated plant, normally dioecious and dimorphic, although sometimes monoecious (mostly in several modern European fiber cultivars). Figure 2 presents the basic morphology of the species. Some special hybrids, obtained by pollinating females of dioecious lines with pollen from monoecious plants, are predominantly female (so-called “all-female,” these generally also produce some hermaphrodites and occasional males). All-female lines are productive for some purposes (e.g. they are very uniform, and with very few males to take up space they can produce considerable grain), but the hybrid seed is expensive to produce. Staminate or “male” plants tend to be 10%–15% taller and are less robust than the pistillate or “female” (note the comparatively frail male in Fig. 3). So prolific is pollen production that an isolation distance of about 5 km is usually recommended for generating pure-bred foundation seed. A “perigonal bract” subtends each female flower, and grows to envelop the fruit. While small, secretory, resin-producing glands occur on the epidermis of most of the above-ground parts of the plant, the glands are very dense and productive on the perigonal bracts, which are accordingly of central interest in marijuana varieties. The root is a laterally branched taproot, generally 30–60 cm deep, up to 2.5 m in loose soils, very near the surface and more branched in wet soils. Extensive root systems are key to the ability of hemp crops to exploit deep supplies of nutrients and water. The stems are erect, furrowed, and usually branched, with a woody interior, and may be hollow in the internodes. Although the stem is often woody, the species is frequently referred to as a herb or forb. Plants vary enormously in height depending on genetic constitution and environment (Fig. 4), but are typically 1–5 m (heights of 12 m or more in cultivation have been claimed).


Fig. 2. Cannabis sativa. This superb composite plate by artist Elmer Smith, often reproduced at a very small scale and without explanation in marijuana books, is the best scientific illustration of the hemp plant ever prepared. 1. Flowering branch of male plant. 2. Flowering branch of female plant. 3. Seedling. 4. Leaflet. 5. Cluster of male flowers. 6. Female flower, enclosed by perigonal bract. 7. Mature fruit enclosed in perigonal bract. 8. Seed (achene), showing wide face. 9. Seed, showing narrow face. 10. Stalked secretory gland. 11. Top of sessile secretory gland. 12. Long section of cystolith hair (note calcium carbonate concretion at base). Reproduced with the permission of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.


Fig. 3. Photograph of Cannabis sativa. Left, staminate (“male”) plant in flower; right, pistillate (“female”) plant in flower.

Fig. 4. United States National Institute of Health, University of Mississippi marijuana plantation site, showing variation in plant size. A tall fiber-type of hemp plant is shown at left, and a short narcotic variety (identified as “Panama Gold”) at right.

There is great variation in Cannabis sativa, because of disruptive domestication for fiber, oilseed, and narcotic resin, and there are features that tend to distinguish these three cultigens (cultivated phases) from each other. Moreover, density of cultivation is used to accentuate certain architectural features. Figure 5 illustrates the divergent appearances of the basic agronomic categories of Cannabis in typical field configurations.

There is great variation in Cannabis sativa, because of disruptive domestication for fiber, oilseed, and narcotic resin, and there are features that tend to distinguish these three cultigens (cultivated phases) from each other. Moreover, density of cultivation is used to accentuate certain architectural features. Figure 5 illustrates the divergent appearances of the basic agronomic categories of Cannabis in typical field configurations.

Fig. 5. Typical architecture of categories of cultivated Cannabis sativa. Top left: narcotic plants are generally low, highly branched, and grown well-spaced. Top right: plants grown for oilseed were traditionally well-spaced, and the plants developed medium height and strong branching. Bottom left: fiber cultivars are grown at high density, and are unbranched and very tall. Bottom center: “dual purpose” plants are grown at moderate density, tend to be slightly branched and of medium to tall height. Bottom right: some recent oilseed cultivars are grown at moderate density and are short and relatively unbranched. Degree of branching and height are determined both by the density of the plants and their genetic background.

Highly selected forms of the fiber cultigen possess features maximizing fiber production. Since the nodes tend to disrupt the length of the fiber bundles, thereby limiting quality, tall, relatively unbranched plants with long internodes have been selected. Another strategy has been to select stems that are hollow at the internodes, with limited wood, since this maximizes production of fiber in relation to supporting woody tissues. Similarly, limited seed productivity concentrates the plant’s energy into production of fiber, and fiber cultivars often have low genetic propensity for seed output. Selecting monoecious strains overcomes the problem of differential maturation times and quality of male (staminate) and female (pistillate) plants (males mature 1–3 weeks earlier). Male plants in general are taller, albeit slimmer, less robust, and less productive. Except for the troublesome characteristic of dying after anthesis, male traits are favored for fiber production, in contrast to the situation for drug strains noted below. In former, labor-intensive times, the male plants were harvested earlier than the females, to produce superior fiber. The limited branching of fiber cultivars is often compensated for by possession of large leaves with wide leaflets, which obviously increase the photosynthetic ability of the plants. Since fiber plants have not generally been selected for narcotic purposes, the level of intoxicating constituents is usually limited.

An absence of such fiber-strain traits as tallness, limited branching, long internodes, and very hollow stems, is characteristic of narcotic strains. Drug forms have historically been grown in areas south of the north-temperate zone, often close to the equator, and are photoperiodically adapted to a long season. When grown in north-temperate climates maturation is much-delayed until late fall, or the plants succumb to cold weather before they are able to produce seeds. Unlike fiber strains that have been selected to grow well at extremely high densities, drug strains tend to be less persistent when grown in high concentration (de Meijer 1994). Drug strains can be very similar in appearance to fiber strains. However, a characteristic type of narcotic plant was selected in southern Asia, particularly in India and neighboring countries. This is dioecious, short (about a meter in height), highly branched, with large leaves (i.e. wide leaflets), and it is slow to mature. The appearance is rather like a short, conical Christmas tree.

Until recent times, the cultivation of hemp primarily as an oilseed was largely unknown, except in Russia. Today, it is difficult to reconstruct the type of plant that was grown there as an oilseed, because such cultivation has essentially been abandoned. Oilseed hemp cultivars in the modern sense were not available until very recently, but some land races certainly were grown specifically for seeds in Russia. Dewey (1914) gave the following information: “The short oil-seed hemp with slender stems, about 30 inches high, bearing compact clusters of seeds and maturing in 60 to 90 days, is of little value for fiber production, but the experimental plants, grown from seed imported from Russia, indicate that it may be valuable as an oil-seed crop to be harvested and threshed in the same manner as oil-seed flax.” Most hemp oilseed in Europe is currently obtained from so-called “dual usage” plants (employed for harvest of both stem fiber and seeds, from the same plants). Of the European dual-usage cultivars, ‘Uniko B’ and ‘Fasamo’ are particularly suited to being grown as oilseeds. Very recently, cultivars have been bred specifically for oilseed production. These include ‘Finola,’ formerly known as ‘Fin-314’ (Fig. 6) and ‘Anka’ (Fig. 7), which are relatively short, little-branched, mature early in north-temperate regions, and are ideal for high-density planting and harvest with conventional equipment. Dewey (1914) noted that a Turkish narcotic type of land race called “Smyrna” was commonly used in the early 20th century in the US to produce birdseed, because (like most narcotic types of Cannabis) it is densely branched, producing many flowers, hence seeds. While oilseed land races in northern Russia would have been short, early-maturing plants in view of the short growing season, in more southern areas oilseed landraces likely had moderate height, and were spaced more widely to allow abundant branching and seed production to develop. Until Canada replaced China in 1998 as a source of imported seeds for the US, most seeds used for various purposes in the US were sterilized and imported from China. Indeed, China remains the largest producer of hempseed. We have grown Chinese hemp land races, and these were short, branched, adapted to a very long growing season (i.e. they come into flower very slowly in response to photoperiodic induction of short days in the fall), and altogether they were rather reminiscent of Dewey’s description of Smyrna. Although similar in appearance to narcotic strains of C. sativa, the Chinese land races we grew were in fact low in intoxicating constituents, and it may well be that what Dewey thought was a narcotic strain was not. Although some forms of C. sativa have quite large seeds, until recently oilseed forms appear to have been mainly selected for a heavy yield of seeds, usually recognizable by abundant branching. Such forms are typically grown at lower densities than hemp grown only for fiber, as this promotes branching, although it should be understood that the genetic propensity for branching has been selected. Percentage or quality of oil in the seeds does not appear to have been important in the past, although selection for these traits is now being conducted. Most significantly, modern selection is occurring with regard to mechanized harvesting, particularly the ability to grow in high density as single-headed stalks with very short branches bearing considerable seed.


Fig. 6. ‘Finola,’ the first cultivar of Cannabis sativa bred exclusively for grain. (Courtesy of the breeder, J.C. Callaway, Univ. Kuopio, Finland.)

Fig. 7. ‘Anka,’ the first registered North American bred cultivar of Cannabis sativa. This variety is best suited for grain production. (Courtesy of the breeder, P. Dragla, and of the Industrial Hemp Seed Development Company, Chatham, Ontario.)

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He specializes in the development of processing systems that are extremely efficient and that can utilize waste biomass to produce the energy to run the extraction process thereby lowering the operation and production cost of the CBD product