By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
Prior to 1937, the growing of the plant hemp was legal throughout the United States. Then a movement to ban the product because of what some people class as “reefer madness” syndrome, forced the plant into prohibition and made it only available on the black market.
That was then, this is now thanks to the efforts of growers attempting to push the crop back into the mainstream and away from the back alleys and dark corners reputation the crop has, to many, been saddled with unfairly.
The crop, which still carries a bad name among most of the uneducated, is slowly starting to make its way into the North Carolina agricultural economy — at least that’s the hope of local grower Keith Dunn Jr.
Mr. Dunn is spearheading a movement locally to make the misunderstood crop a viable, high-monetary-return option for farmers, not only in Harnett County, but statewide.
“This is going to be the new cash crop for North Carolina,” Mr. Dunn said. “I believe the most lucrative crop in North Carolina is tobacco at about $5,000 per acre. I’m looking at beating that; it’s a plant that can be sold for four or five times that before the day is over with.”
When you discuss the crop with Mr. Dunn, one of the first things he tries do is dismiss the misnomer that hemp is an illicit drug. While it is a cousin to marijuana, it does not have the same effects.
With a reduced amount of THC, what gives marijuana its euphoric properties, hemp isn’t capable of affecting a person in the same manner.
According to Mr. Dunn, the allowable amount of THC for hemp to class as industrial or for that matter, research hemp, is only .3 percent.
That’s a considerably less amount than marijuana which can contain as much as 30 percent in some strands. So the potential for a “high” is just not there, according to Mr. Dunn.
“That’s the difference between the two,” Mr. Dunn said. “If it contains more than the .3 percent, then it’s legally classed as marijuana.”
With that in mind, he outlines the true uses of hemp beyond the traditional belief that it’s only good for making rope. That’s actually a far cry from reality.
See Hemp, Page 3
Camden Little volunteers picking hemp Saturday on Keith Dunn Jr.’s hemp farm just outside Dunn.This is the first year hemp has been allowed to grow in North Carolina and Mr. Dunn is terribly excited about its potential. Mr. Dunn and his dad farm 500 acres, which seems like a lot, but in the farming world it’s not. Hemp has the capacity to produce more money per acre than tobacco. Although it is a cousin to marijuana, it does not contain the drug-inducing THC levels marijuana has.
Daily Record Photo/Melody Brown-Peyton Hemp
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In reality the hemp plant is useful from the root all the way to the seeds imbedded in the flower. With uses of various parts of the plant spread over at least 25,000 industries, the plant is a far cry from its illegal cousin.
Hemp can provide medicinal purposes — currently its roots are used as a supplement to help patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases just to name a few — all the way to providing building materials for homes, Mr. Dunn notes.
“There’s one man in North Carolina who wants to make it into door panels,” Mr. Dunn said. “It can be turned into something like fiberglass.”
Mr. Dunn boasts the uses of the plant are unimaginable to most people. Something that once its properties and uses are fully understood, will make it a mainstream crop.
“Every single part of the plant can be sold,” he said. “We’re selling the roots, the stalk, the flower and the seeds. This hemp taps into so many industries and what cotton can do, hemp can do better. What trees can do, hemp can do better. What plastics can do, hemp can do better and anything you can make out of petroleum, hemp can do better. It has so many different uses and it’s good for the environment.”
Mr. Dunn has two main goals aside from producing the crop. One is to educate the public along with the agricultural community to the benefits and to see the crop shed its “reefer madness” image. “Education is key,” he said. “The more you learn about hemp and its uses, the more you realize its value to the agricultural community and the community in general.”
Growing hemp in North Carolina is a complicated process in general, a process that was complicated even further earlier this year by federal authorities, according to Mr. Dunn.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency denied ships carrying hemp seeds from Europe entry to U.S. ports for two months giving some who had agreed to join a pilot project backed by the State of North Carolina pause.
Because of the time it takes for the plant to be grown, usually 150 days, it needs to be planted in a window of early to mid-April. The shipments weren’t allowed into U.S. waters until June.
“The seed was ordered in October and it arrived in North Carolina in March, but the DEA held it at customs for two months,” Mr. Dunn said. “It sat on a barge in international waters for two months until the DEA finally released the seed. I didn’t get the seed until June 10 and I ended up planting June 15. So, we’re expecting a low yield because of that. But the blessing is a lot of the farmers backed out. But I continued to grow it anyway.”
That helped open markets that normally wouldn’t have been available taking into account the limited amount of processing plants in the state. So, the crops that had been anticipated to those facilities didn’t materialize and Mr. Dunn was able to find a buyer for his crop.
“All of our hemp is already sold,” he said. “Because of the DEA, I was able to sell it to the processor anyway.”
Additionally, hemp growers are restricted to using the crop for research purposes for now. After some efforts by hemp supporters, farmers who were granted the limited number of licenses to participate in the pilot program can take the product to market and that’s exactly what Mr. Dunn and his father, Keith Dunn Sr., who is the holder of the license, plans to do.
Both men agree the monetary benefits, especially to small farmers like themselves — they farm around 500 acres — can be a crop that gives them more financial stability and offers them an opportunity to keep the family farm going economically.
Along with the economic and industrial benefits of hemp, comes the environmental boost it produces. Instead of producing carbon, hemp removes it from the air along with other toxic substances.
Its cleaning properties were best used when hemp was planted around the Chernobyl nuclear site where a meltdown sent radiation into the air.
Its cleaning properties have helped reduce the amount of radiation in the air around the site, but its positive impact is also felt on the ground, according to Mr. Dunn.
He says because of the plant, many toxins that are left behind from raising other crops are also absorbed and removed. The Dunns call it an ideal rotational crop for just those reasons. Even though it’s a crop that can be planted for as many as three or four growing seasons in the same field.
Additionally, when it’s harvested there’s almost no leftover material to dispose of as with other crops. Corn, for example, the stalks are there to be burned off as are the leftover cobs from when the seed is removed.
There are some precautions hemp farmers still have to do thanks to the yet-to-be-loosened restraints that would come if it were to be removed from the list of schedule I controlled substances.
“If we have any volunteers (crops that grow from leftover seeds), we have to remove them and destroy them,” the senior Mr. Dunn noted. “So, we will have to keep an eye out for those to pop up.”
That loosening of the restraints could come as early as this year if current legislation can find its way to the desk of the president.
A bill has been introduced into Congress de-scheduling the drug making it an agricultural commodity nationwide. Until then it’s still up to the state to take the next step beyond the pilot program.
Currently 33 states have passed legislation regarding the growing of hemp whether it be through pilot or research programs or simply establishing the perameters for when the DEA will give approval.
So the possibility does exist, according to Mr. Dunn, that someday in the near future hemp will definitely not be just about rope anymore.
Left, Keith Dunn Jr. holds a stalk of a hemp plant in his field outside Dunn last week. Right, AustinWalker and Rachel Mahr both hold shirts made from hemp. They were two of the volunteers who harvested the crop.
Daily Record Photos/Rick Curl and Melody Brown-Peyton