Rodale Institute Industrial Hemp Research Project
What role can hemp play in soil health?
In 2017, Rodale Institute's research project was one of 16 projects that received a permit for the inaugural planting of hemp in Pennsylvania in more than 80 years, as part of the PA Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Pilot Project. Industrial hemp, a versatile plant grown for its fiber, seed or oil, was a valuable cash crop and a major industry in Pennsylvania for more than 260 years. Due to its close relationship to the marijuana plant, hemp production became a casualty of a 1933 law banning marijuana, and was later named a Schedule 1 drug by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. However, changes made to the 2014 Federal Farm Bill now allow for hemp to be grown for research purposes by the PDA or an institution of higher education.
Rodale Institute is conducting a four-year research project focusing on utilizing Industrial Hemp as a cash or cover crop to address weed pest issues and enhance soil health in organic agriculture. We will conduct two field trials, a Variety Trial and Weed Suppression Trial, and one greenhouse study. Our research aims to identify which varieties of hemp will be effective for future use by organic farmers to manage weed pests and enhance soil health.
The Variety Trial will test several varieties of hemp that have been bred to produce higher yields and higher quality of fiber and/or seeds. This trial focuses on finding which types of hemp will grow best in a Mid-Atlantic climate and produce the most amount of fiber.
The Weed Suppression Trial will use hemp as a rotational crop in an organic system. The main weed pressure in this study comes from yellow foxtail and red root pigweed. Hemp fits well into a diverse organic crop rotation and it’s high biomass and canopy production has the potential to shade out weeds resulting in lower weed seed germination and growth. This trial will analyze how farmers can best compete against weeds by utilizing a crop rather than tillage. Tillage can destroy microbial communities in the soil environment and can result in a loss of organic matter.
Weed Seedbank Study Soil samples collected before seeding and after harvest will be mixed with vermiculite, transferred into flats, and placed in the greenhouse. Soil will be watered to stimulate seed germination. Weeds will then be counted and identified.
Please continue to follow along in this exciting new project to see what implications it could have for organic farmers!
Hemp Facts: Did you know industrial hemp has over 25,000 reported uses?
• Hemp seed is a superfood rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
• Hemp oil is used for cooking, body care products, household detergents and fuel.
• Hemp fiber is used to remove toxins and heavy metals to purify water.
• Hemp fiber’s strength & durability make it great for textiles, military uniforms, ship rigging & parachute webbing.
• Hemp fiber is used to make paper, fabric, insulation, auto parts and animal bedding.
• Hemp is used to create building materials that are mold, mildew, fire, and insect resistant.