Pubdate: May, 1918
Source: Bulletin 293 - Wisconsin's Hemp Industry. Agricultural
Experiment Station of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Author: A. H. Wright
Pages: This is an excerpt of the entire report. ". . ."
indicates that text has been omitted.
Hemp has been grown in Wisconsin for ten years.
It has been found that hemp can be grown very successfully in
the state, that the climate and certain soils of Wisconsin are
particularly suited to the crop, and that the development of labor
saving machinery has made the hemp industry one of far reaching
importance. Pages 3 to 6.
Several hundred acres must be grown in a vicinity
to make hemp production profitable. Cooperative growing is necessary.
The state hemp association is stabilizing the industry in the
state. Pages 6 to 9.
Wisconsin is the second largest hemp producing
state in the Union. The principal centers of production are Fond
du Lac, Green Lake, Dodge, and Racine Counties. Pages 9 to 13.
Hemp fiber is a national necessity. In addition
to its important use for wrapping cords of all kinds, it is now
being used for such vital purposes as thread for sewing army shoes
and harness, as caulking in battle ships, and for binder twine.
Page 13 to 15.
Hemp should be grown on fertile soil. Poor
soils are not suitable. Hemp is not hard on land, for it removes
less plant food than many other farm crops. It improves the physical
condition of the soil and is a successful crop for smothering
quack grass and Canada thistles. Pages 15 to 20.
Fiber hemp does not mature seed in Wisconsin;
consequently, seed for planting is principally obtained from Kentucky.
The seed weighs 44 pounds to the bushel and 40 pounds are required
to plant an acre. Pages 20 to 24.
Hemp is drilled in a well-prepared seed bed,
in the spring, and requires no further attention until it is ready
to harvest in September.
Hemp is harvested with a special harvesting
machine which spreads the stalks in a thin windrow. After remaining
in the windrow several weeks, the stalks are tied into bundles,
shocked, and stacked. Pages 24 to 32.
The dry, cured hemp stalks are hauled to a
breaking mill. Here the fiber is removed from the woody portion
of the stalks. To perform this separation of the fiber, especially
constructed and equipped hemp mills are necessary. Wisconsin now
has nine of these mills. Pages 32 to 38.
Large yields of hemp fiber are obtained in
Wisconsin, averaging 1,200 pounds an acre. The cost of producing
the crop is from $8 to $11 more an acre than for small grain crops.
The gross returns average $75 an acre. With the advent of modern
machinery, hemp can be produced just as easily as corn. Hand labor
is no longer necessary and as a result, the hemp industry in Wisconsin
is firmly established. Pages 38 to 46.
Of the 42,000 acres of hemp grown in the United
States in 1917, Wisconsin grew 7,000. Among the several states
growing hemp, Wisconsin ranks second in acreage and production
Large areas in Wisconsin are admirably suited
to hemp culture, and a firmly established dairy industry helps
to insure the continued productiveness of the soil.
The climate of Wisconsin is particularly suited
to the production of dewretted fiber of good strength and high
quality. The fall months are cool and moist, which makes it possible
to ret the crop without scorching or over-retting, an item of
vital importance in the production of good fiber.
The yields of fiber obtained in this state
have been entirely satisfactory, ranging from 1,000 to over 1,500
pounds to the acre; the quality of Wisconsin's hemp fiber is equal
to that produced in any other state; and our farmers have received
profitable returns from the culture of the crop.
In the improvement of machinery for handling
the crop one of the most serious problems of the industry is being
solved. Hand labor is now unnecessary in handling Wisconsin's
hemp crop. It is harvested by special machinery, and especially
constructed and equipped mills are established in the state for
separating the fiber from the stalks. In fact, Wisconsin now has
over 70 per cent of the total number of hemp mills in the United
Hemp has been demonstrated to be the best smother
crop for assisting in the eradication of quack grass and Canada
. . .
In 1908 six acres were grown on the asylum
farm at Mendota and three acres on the prison farm at Waupun by
the Agronomy department of the Wisconsin Experiment Station in
cooperation with the Office of Fiber Investigations of the United
States Department of Agriculture. The results were so promising
that the investigational work was rapidly increased during 1909,
1910, and 1911. During these years fields were grown at Mendota,
Waupun, and Viroqua. At each of these points good results were
obtained. At Waupun in 1911 the hemp was grown on land badly infested
with quack grass, and in spite of an unfavorable season a yield
of 2,100 pounds of fiber to the acre was obtained, and the quack
grass was practically destroyed. The results were so encouraging
that several neighboring farmers became interested, and in 1912
grew a total of 125 acres. Since that time hemp has been grown
in that vicinity every year as a commercial crop. During the last
few years, the industry extended chiefly from Waupun to Brandon
and westward through the region between Fairwater and Markesan.
To prove that hemp could be grown in Wisconsin
was an important undertaking, but the great problem was to obtain
power machinery in order that hand methods could be eliminated.
When the work with hemp was begun in Wisconsin, there were no
satisfactory machines for harvesting, spreading, binding, or breaking.
All of these processes were performed by hand. Due to such methods,
the hemp industry in the United States had all but disappeared.
As it was realized from the very beginning of the work in Wisconsin
that no permanent progress could be made so long as it was necessary
to depend upon hand labor, immediate attention was given to solving
the problem of power machinery. Nearly every kind of hemp machine
was studied and tested. The obstacles were great, but through
the cooperation of experienced hemp men and one large harvesting
machinery company, this problem has been nearly solved. The hemp
crop can now be handled entirely by machinery.
Hemp is now of firm footing in Wisconsin; the
big obstacles have been overcome, but the final success of the
new industry depends upon the kind of judgment used in its further
The production of hemp fiber is an item of
vital importance in carrying on the work towards winning the
war. Wisconsin is at the present time the most promising state
for the further development of this industry.
Wisconsin hemp is now used in sewing the shoes
worn by American soldiers and hemp fiber is at the present time
the only suitable fiber available in sufficient quantities for
this purpose. It is also used as cordage in ship building, and
hemp tow is the best available material for calking vessels.
During the coming year hemp will be used in the manufacture of
binder twine and to eke out the scant supply of jute for covering
L. H. Dewey,
United States Department of Agriculture.
Community interest is essential to the successful
production of hemp. One farmer in a community, without the cooperation
of his neighbors, will fail if he attempts to grow hemp. Machinery
for handling the crop is expensive, and without machinery little
or nothing can be accomplished. In this state central breaking
mills are necessary. These mills cost from $10,000 to more than
$50,000, depending upon the capacity and equipment. Of course
a sufficient acreage must be grown in a community to justify the
erection of such a mill. The first year there should be at least
300 acres with reasonable assurance of from 500 to 750 acres in
successive years. This means that the production of hemp must
be concentrated in definite centers, to give assurance of sufficient
raw material to make the operation of mills profitable.
The stable growth which the hemp industry has
made in Wisconsin is due considerably to organized effort. At
the very beginning of the industry at Waupun, an organization
known as the Rock River Hemp Growers' association was formed.
This association was considerably responsible for guiding the
new industry through the experimental stage. After the crop expanded
and became of state-wide importance, a state association was formed.
This association is known as the Wisconsin Hemp Order. It was
organized at Ripon on October 18, 1917, and is affiliated with
the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Association. The object
of the Hemp Order is to promote the general welfare of the hemp
industry in the state. Its membership is composed of hemp growers
and hemp mill operators. Anyone in the state interested in the
growing and handling of hemp is eligible to membership.
In Wisconsin hemp is grown chiefly on the dark
prairie loams and, to some extent, on the gray silt loams of the
timbered sections. The leading hemp producing counties are now
Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Dodge, and Racine. The principal towns
around which hemp is now grown are Waupun, Brandon, Fairwater,
Markesan, Iron Ridge, Union Grove, Picketts, and Milton. Small
acreages were grown in 1917 at Waterloo, Brownsville, Randolph,
Fond du Lac, Oak Center, Oak Grove, and Baldwin.
In the United States, previous to the Civil
War, the chief centers of hemp production were Kentucky, Missouri,
and Illinois. From the close of the Civil War until 1912, nearly
all the hemp in the United States was grown in Kentucky. At the
present time (1918), hemp is grown for fiber in Kentucky, Wisconsin,
California, North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, South Dakota,
Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois. Of these states the most
important are Kentucky, Wisconsin, and California.
Accurate data on the world's acreage and production
of hemp cannot be obtained, but fairly accurate figures on the
acreage, production, and consumption of raw hemp fiber in the
United States are available.
The acreage of hemp in the United States has
varied from year to year in about the same degree as has the production
of fiber. Acreage in different states is shown in Table II.
The 41,000 acres of hemp in the United States
in 1917 was an increase of more than 100 per cent over that of
1916, the greatest increase of any year in the history of the
American hemp industry.
Previous to 1915 the great bulk of the American
hemp acreage was in Kentucky, but during 1915, 1916, and 1917
the acreage in other states has been rapidly increasing.
It is evident that there has been a tremendous
increase in acreage during the last three years, especially during
1917. Just how permanent this large increase will be, it is impossible
to forecast, but in those states where natural conditions of soil
and climate are favorable and where thorough preparations have
been made for growing and handling the crop, there is every reason
to believe that hemp production is a permanent industry.
Hemp is grown for its seed, for medicine, and
for its fiber. In the United States it is important as a fiber
Wisconsin is in great need of a variety of
good fiber hemp that will mature seed in this climate. With that
object in view, the Agronomy Department of the Wisconsin Experiment
Station in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture
began breeding experiments with hemp in 1912. An attempt was made
to develop by selection an early maturing strain from Minnesota
No. 8. A more uniform fiber type was obtained so far as general
characters were concerned, but little or no progress was made
in increasing early maturity, although the selection was continued
without interruption for five years.
Since 1916 work with selecting and improving
hemp has been materially increased. The results thus far obtained
indicate that the various strains or varieties from Italy are
the most promising for Wisconsin. The Italian variety known as
the Ferrara has been grown for two years and many selections made.
Enough seed was obtained from the 1917 plots to plats five acres
of fiber hemp. This seed was sent out this spring (1918) for a
commercial trial. If it produces a satisfactory yield and quality
of fiber, the station will rapidly increase the supply of seed
of that variety and will intensify the work of selection.
Another strain of hemp obtained from the United
States of Office of Fiber Investigations has shown much promise.
It is the result of a cross between the Ferrara (Italian) and
the Minnesota No. 8. By another year enough seed of that variety
will be available for distribution over the state for a commercial
For the present, Wisconsin must depend upon
other states for hempseed, but it is believed possible, from the
results thus far obtained, to discover or develop by breeding
a desirable strain that will mature seed in this state.
Hemp is adapted to the humid sections of the
temperate zones, but certain varieties, such as the birdseed forms,
grow extensively rather far north in Russia and mature in 60 to
90 days. Hemp for seed requires approximately five months of favorable
weather to mature, which necessitates a growing season of 175
days or more. Hemp for fiber will mature in four months, which
means that so far as length of season is concerned, hemp for fiber
can be grown practically anywhere in the United States.
Hemp is grown to some extent in semitropical
regions for oil or drugs, but its natural habitat is in regions
of temperate climate, and it is not grown for fiber outside of
the temperate zone.
Humid conditions are necessary for the production
of hemp fiber. Seed can be matured to some extent in regions of
sparse rainfall, but the regions in the United States where hemp
has been successfully grown for fiber have a rainfall of 30 inches
or more annually.
The climate in Wisconsin is ideal for the production
of dewretted hemp. The falls are cool and fairly moist so that
the green hemp can be spread out for retting as soon as it is
harvested without any danger of its being scorched or otherwise
injured by the sun. As a result, when reasonably well handled,
Wisconsin fiber is generally soft and pliable, and possesses considerable
"nature," and it has been in great demand among manufactures.
Hemp that is suitable for fiber does not mature
seed in Wisconsin; consequently no Wisconsin varieties have been
established. A great deal of attention is being given by the Experiment
Station to the development of a variety that will mature seed
in this state and some progress has been made. The hemp that has
been grown so far comes from Kentucky seed.
There are three fairly distinct types of hemp:
that grown for fiber, that for birdseed and oil, and that for
drugs. The fiber type is comparatively tall and slender, sparsely
branched, with long internodes and distinctly hollow stems. The
birdseed type is short, greatly branched, with short internodes,
and nearly solid stems. The drug type is similar to the birdseed
type, but the leaves of the female plants are more waxy or resinous,
the foliage more dense, and the stems more nearly solid. Both
the birdseed type and the drug type are unsuited for fiber production
and should not be grown in Wisconsin.
The varieties of fiber hemp grown in the United
States are known largely by the name of the country or place from
which the seed was originally obtained. As a result we have such
names as Chinese hemp, Japanese hemp, Russian hemp and American
or Kentucky hemp. More specific names have been given to varieties
tested and developed in the United States. The more important
of these are Minnesota No. 8, Keijo, Malanyu, Hankow - all of
Chinese origin; Ferrara or Bologna, Carmagnola, Itamington, Carymington,
Ferramington - all of Italian origin; Tochigi and Hiroschima -
both of Japanese origin.
From tests made of hemp from practically every
country (Tests made by the U.S. Office of Fiber Investigations.)
it is evident that the best fiber producing kinds are from China,
Japan, Hungary, and Italy. It should be remembered, however, that
not all hemp in those countries produces good fiber, for there
are undesirable varieties grown in each of those countries. Since
the desirable fiber varieties, from China, Japan, and Hungary,
require from 150 to 160 days of favorable weather to mature seed
they will not produce seed in commercial quantities in Wisconsin.
Of the early-maturing varieties, those from Italy are the only
promising ones. They will mature seed in Wisconsin in from 130
to 140 days, being fully 20 days earlier than the late-maturing
varieties. Generally, hemp from Russia, India, France, Chile,
Turkey, Arabia, and Africa is not desirable for fiber production.
Until a more satisfactory type or variety of
hemp is obtained, the Wisconsin growers should use the Chinese
type, commonly known as Kentucky or Minnesota No. 8. As a rule,
foreign importations should be strictly avoided. Occasional lots
from foreign countries might be very satisfactory, but the chances
of getting the wrong type are very great. No one can tell by examining
hempseed to what type or variety it belongs.
Since the Civil War the production of hempseed
has been almost entirely limited to the bottoms of the Kentucky
River and its tributaries. In Kentucky some upland hempseed is
produced each year, but its production is generally unprofitable
and the amount grown of little consequence. In 1917 several thousand
bushels of seed were produced outside of Kentucky, principally
in California, Ohio, and Kansas. While hemp for fiber is a successful
crop in the extreme northern states and in southern Canada, hempseed
seemingly must be produced in sections farther south.
That Wisconsin farmers must depend upon Kentucky
River bottom growers to produce seed is most unfortunate, and
before a dependable supply of seed can be obtained it will be
necessary to have it produced elsewhere, unless there is a radical
change in the manner of handling and selling seed in Kentucky.
During the last few years the price of hempseed
has been unstable. This condition of the market has not been due
to a lack of seed to supply the demand, for each year several
thousand bushels of seed have been held over, but it has been
largely due to a complete lack of organization and to the activity
of seed speculators. The price that the grower of fiber has been
compelled to pay for seed has often been unreasonable, and such
prices, together with the very unstable condition of the market,
are seriously injuring the hemp industry, not only in Wisconsin
but throughout the whole United States. The future safety and
permanency of the industry in Wisconsin demands that a new and
dependable source of seed be obtained. The Experiment Station
in cooperation with the United States Office of Fiber Investigations
has investigated prospective sections for establishing new centers
of hempseed production and such work will be vigorously promoted.
On fertile soils, hemp is the best smother
crop for all kinds of weeds. Wherever hemp has been grown in America
it has left the soil freer from weeds than has any other crop.
In Wisconsin hemp has proved to be the most satisfactory smother
crop for quack grass and Canada thistles. Early experiments that
showed the value of hemp as a smother crop led Wisconsin farmers
to grow it on a commercial scale. A large acreage is still seeded
to hemp each year on soils infested with quack grass and Canada
Too many people have the idea that land infested
with quack or thistles can be plowed in the spring, harrowed,
and seeded to hemp, and that the hemp will entirely destroy these
weeds. In very favorable seasons, and under the best conditions,
quack and thistles might be overcome by such a method, but experience
has shown repeatedly that hemp planted on quack grass or Canada
thistle land where no attention has previously been paid to subduing
these weeds, will fail both to smother out the weeds and to produce
a satisfactory growth of hemp. It is highly important, therefore,
that soils that are so infested be prepared properly.
Weed infested lands should be plowed in July
or August of the year preceding the planting of hemp. The plowed
land should be cultivated with the spring-tooth harrow every week
until further growth of the weeds is prevented by the freezing
of the soil. If there are many loosened roots, remove them with
the hayrake, leave them in windrows, and burn them.
Use heavy applications of well-rotted manure,
plowed under in the fall or as a top-dressing in the spring. Early
in the spring the soil should be worked into a good seed bed,
and if quack and thistles appear, they should be thoroughly subdued
with a good sharp disk. If necessary, follow the disk with a spring-tooth
harrow. Keep the weeds down to the very time the hemp is seeded.
If the spring is cold and wet it is advisable to delay planting
until the soil is sufficiently warm to insure immediate germination
of the seed. On such weed infested land, seeding can be delayed
until the first of June, though ordinarily earlier planting is
Though hemp escapes from cultivation and occasionally
appears from year to year as a volunteer plant, it does not become
a weed. It may continue to grow in fence corners, roadsides, and
other waste places, but it seldom, if ever, persists in cultivated
Wisconsin hemp is, as yet, entirely free from
attacks by insects and diseases. Not one report of injuries to
the crop from insects or plant diseases has been received. The
chief enemy to hemp in Kentucky is a parasitic plant known as
the "branched broom rape," but this parasite has not
appeared in Wisconsin.
Outside of the United States hemp is still
harvested by hand, and until the last few years hand harvesting
has been generally practiced in America. Even now much of the
Kentucky crop is harvested by negroes with a hand hemp-hook. Several
machines have been devised for harvesting the crop, but the first
successful machine and the only one considerably used previous
to 1917 was the self-rake reaper. This machine does very satisfactory
work, but it leaves the stalks in bundles or gavels which must
be spread out by hand in thin layers or swaths. In 1917 a machine
especially devised for harvesting hemp was placed on the market.
This machine not only cuts hemp, but spreads it at the same time,
leaving the stalks in an even swath. The work is done much better
than by hand as the butts are more even and there is less crossing
and tangling of the stalks. As an experimental machine it has
done exceptionally well, and there is no question but that it
will be widely used and will be a great factor in placing the
hemp industry on a permanent basis.
POWER BRAKES. The great problem of breaking
hemp in Wisconsin is now practically solved. Power brakes are
established and doing very satisfactory work.
The first successful brake tested in this state
has been used for several years by the Rock River Hemp Mills at
Waupun. It was originally intended as a portable machine, but
the idea of moving it from one farm to another has been given
up and for the last two years it has been housed in a breaking
mill, to which the hemp stalks are hauled.
The majority of the breaking machines now in
use in Wisconsin are of the fluted roller type.
Another type of brake is now being tried out
near Brandon. The breaking is done by means of fluted rolls, but
instead of the stalks being fed end-wise, as in the case of the
other fluted roller machines, they are fed to the rolls at an
angle and by means of a specially devised feeding table. This
machine has much promise but is still in the experimental stage.
Many other types of brakes have been tested in this and other
states, but thus far they have not proved to be as satisfactory
as the fluted roll brakes.
Previous to the last few years, all dewretted
hemp has been broken out in the field with portable hand or power
brakes. Such a method necessitated little or no hauling. Under
the modern plan of central plants which house the breaking machinery,
it is necessary to haul the retted and cured stalks over distances
varying from less than a mile to several miles. Just how far hemp
can be hauled profitably will depend upon the condition of the
roads and the price obtained. Generally speaking, two horses will
draw from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of cured stalks, which represents
the yield of one-half acre of average hemp. If the roads are reasonably
good, hemp can be hauled profitably as far as five to seven miles.
In Wisconsin it has sometimes been hauled ten miles.
Hauling is by no means as expensive as it is
generally thought to be, and it is certainly better to draw the
stalks several miles and deliver them to a central breaking plant
than to break them in the field with portable machines and undergo
the long delays which invariably result from unfavorable weather.
The great advance made in the production of
rough hemp fiber has come largely as a result of the development
of the central breaking mill. The several mills now operating
in this and other states have been very successful and there is
every reason to believe that the principle of breaking hemp in
fully equipped plants is correct, and that it marks permanent
progress in the development of the hemp industry.
The modern hemp mills, several of which are
now established in Wisconsin, consist of a receiving room, dry
kilns, breaking room with brakes, scutchers and balers, boiler
room, and engine and fan room. The receiving room is not only
used for receiving the stalks but is generally used for storing
sufficient hemp stalks to insure continuous operation of the mill
during periods of unfavorable weather which prevent the delivery
of stalks from fields and stack yards.
From the receiving room the stalks are conducted
through the dry kilns, where the excess moisture is removed by
means of a hot air blast. The thoroughly dried stalks are then
fed to the breaking rolls where they are reduced to a crushed
mass. This mass of broken stalks passes over a series of shakers
by which most of the loose hurds are separated from the fiber,
and is then conducted between the scutching wheels for more complete
removal of hurds.
The fiber, which is then fairly clean, is twisted
into coarse hands and baled. The baled fiber is the final product
of the hemp mill and is known commercially as rough fiber. As
such it is sold to cordage and spinning mills.
Hemp breaking mills are now in operation in
Wisconsin at Waupun, Alto, Brandon, Fairwater (2 mills), Markesan
(2 mills), Union Grove, and Iron Ridge. Arrangements have been
made for erecting others at Milton, and Picketts.
Outside of Wisconsin there are but seven fully
equipped and successfully operating mills. Wisconsin has, therefore,
more hemp mills than all the other states combined.
After hemp stalks are dried and broken the
woody part, called hurds, must be separated from the fiber; this
process is called scutching. Before modern power brakes were used,
all scutching was done by hand; the stalks were broken and uncleaned
fiber whipped over the brake and shaken until it was free from
In Wisconsin, where machine brakes are used,
the cleaning is done with power scutchers. These scutchers consist
of from two to four large cylinders, on the outside surface of
which there are wooden slats. The cylinders are stationary and
revolve toward each other. The uncleaned fiber is conducted between
these wheels and held firmly in the center by means of a clamp-conveyor.
As the fiber passes between the scutching cylinders the hurds
are combed out. A device for off-setting the hemp in the clamp-conveyor
is necessary to clean the middle portion of the fiber, and scutchers
with such a device are now successfully used.
The yields of hemp in Wisconsin have been good.
The average of the state for the last several years has been higher
than the average yields of Kentucky and equal to those obtained
in any other state except California.
The yields of rough fiber in Wisconsin have
usually ranged from 800 to 1,400 pounds to the acre. The average
for the state in 1916 was estimated at 1,200 pounds and yields
of as high as 2,100 pounds are on record. In 1917 a considerable
acreage was planted on unsuitable soil, which reduced the average
for the state to 1,100 pounds. Good yields have always been obtained
in Wisconsin wherever the crop was planted on fertile and well-prepared
For the sake of comparison the following estimate
of acre yields in the leading hemp producing states is given:
Proportion of line and tow. The statements
in Table III on yields are made in terms of total rough fiber,
but it should be remembered that the total fiber includes both
the long fibers, called line or long line, and the short, tangled
fibers, called tow. The line is worth from two to three times
as much as the tow, and the larger the percentage of line fiber
obtained, the more valuable the product. Regardless of how carefully
hemp is handled, there will be some tow produced. In Wisconsin
the mills usually produce 10 to 25 per cent tow and 75 to 90 per
cent line. The amount of tow produced depends upon how thoroughly
it is cleaned by the scutchers, how carefully the stalks are handled
and how well they have been retted. Stalks under four feet in
length will produce fiber that is practically all tow, and if
the stalks have been under-retted, a very high percentage of tow
will result. Tangled and unevenly butted stalks will also produce
a high percentage of tow. If hemp is properly handled both by
the grower and throughout the breaking process, there should result
not over 10 to 15 per cent of tow.
One thousand pounds of Wisconsin's rough fiber
will yield from 800 to 900 pounds of line, and from 100 to 200
pounds of tow. An average hemp crop in Wisconsin will yield three
tons of well-retted and dried stalks to the acre. To produce such
a yield the stand of hemp must be even, the growth regular, and
the average height six and one-half feet. The three tons of dry,
retted stalks will produce, on the average, 20 per cent by weight
of rough fiber. A crop of hemp, therefore, that produces three
tons of dry, retted stalks to the acre will give a yield of 1,200
pounds of rough fiber.
Green hemp stalks, at the time they are harvested,
contain approximately 60 per cent more water than when they are
retted and dry. Consequently a yield of three tons of dry, retted
stalks represents a yield of seven and one-half tons of green
It is impossible to arrive at accurate estimates
of the cost of producing hemp, for in hemp as in the production
of any other crop, the factors determining cost differ on each
farm. In order to provide a general idea of the cost of producing
hemp, the following statements, based on dependable data, are
Hemp is seeded in the spring. The land must
be thoroughly prepared, and consequently, the cost of preparing
the seed bed will be somewhat greater than for other spring seeded
Hemp is seeded broadcast, as are most small
grain crops. The cost of seeding, therefore, will be practically
the same as for oats, barley, or wheat.
Hempseed is now (1917-18) expensive, ranging
from $7 to $10 a bushel. Since a bushel is required to the acre,
the seed will cost from $7 to $10 an acre, or an average of $8.50.
It is evident that seed for the hemp crop is an expensive item
compared with seed for planting most other farm crops.
After hemp is seeded, no cultivation or other
attention is necessary until it is ready to harvest. In this respect
the cost of production is figured on the same basis as for small
The cost of harvesting will depend upon what
arrangements are made for obtaining the hemp harvester. If one
farmer grew from five to ten acres, and bought a harvester for
his own crop only, the cost of harvesting his crop would be extremely
high. If several farmers clubbed together and bought a harvester
cooperatively, the expense of harvesting would be comparatively
reasonable. One harvester should handle 100 acres of hemp so that
cooperation among growers is very important. Where growers do
not see fit to cooperate in the buying of a harvester, the company
which operates the mill should purchase the necessary machines,
furnish a man with each, and harvest the hemp at an agreed price.
A hemp harvester costs more than a grain binder;
more power is required to pull it; and since it is a new device,
more delays due to breakage are likely to occur. This means that
the cost of harvesting hemp is, at present, somewhat greater than
for harvesting a grain crop.
After the hemp is retted, it must be taken
up from the swath and bound. This operation, called lifting, can
now be done with the gather-binder, a machine devised for this
particular purpose. By using such a machine, the cost of binding
the retted stalks will be approximately the same as for threshing
After the stalks are bound, they must be shocked,
a task that requires about the same amount of labor as does shocking
The cost of hauling the dry, retted stalks
to the hemp mill will vary according to the length of haul and
the conditions of the roads. In estimating the cost of hauling,
it may be considered that a good team will haul an average of
3,000 pounds to the load, which means that an acre of average
hemp will make two loads of stalks.
When delivered to the mill, the hemp must be
stacked. This requires about the same amount of labor as stacking
From these facts, it can be estimated that
hemp compared with small grains costs from $5 to $7 more an acre
for seed, from $2 to $3 more an acre for harvesting, and somewhat
more for delivering, the total cost of production ranging from
$8 to $11 more to the acre.
The total returns received are such that the
net profits are much greater from hemp than from small grains
- in fact, greater than from most other Wisconsin crops - a statement
substantiated by the reports of a large majority of hemp growers
in the state.
Wisconsin hemp growers are receiving most encouraging
returns for the crop. Prices received during 1917 ranged from
$50 to over $100 gross an acre.
These large returns are due, of course, to
the present high price of hemp fiber and should not be expected
to continue indefinitely.
However, the market outlook, considered from
all points and from the supplies of competing fibers, indicates
that for several years prices will remain higher than they were
before the war.
So long as present prices for fiber continue
the grower of hemp can expect to receive $75 an acre for a first-class
crop of hemp. This does not imply that any field of hemp is worth
$75 an acre for not all hemp is good hemp. Crops that are short,
irregular, full of weeds, and poorly handled are of less value
and may be nearly worthless.
Before hemp fiber can be spun into yarn it
must be either carded or hackled. Carding and hackling are combing
processes, both of which are now done by power machines at the
spinning mills. These processes remove all foreign materials and
reduce the fiber to finer uniform strands. Formerly a large proportion
of the best hemp in Kentucky was hackled by hand, and there are
still two or three mills in that state where hand hackling is
continued on a reduced scale. The fiber hackled by hand results
in the Kentucky single-dressed and Kentucky double-dressed hemp
still quoted in the market. One or two of the local dealers also
have cards for preparing carded hemp, which is usually prepared
from the medium grades or tangled hemp that would not command
a first-class price as line fiber.
While more progress in the development of the
hemp industry has been made during the last few years than in
all previous years combined, yet there remain many important problems
to be worked out.
The seed situation is very unsatisfactory.
The price has been so unreasonably high and erratic that the very
life of the Wisconsin hemp industry is threatened. Unless the
seed market becomes stabilized and the price reasonable, it will
be necessary to develop new areas of seed production, and for
the Wisconsin hemp growers to contract for seed acreages. The
Experiment Station, in cooperation with the Federal Office of
Fiber Investigations, has already made preliminary arrangements
for the development of such new centers of production and such
work must be continued as vigorously as possible. In the meantime
everything possible must be done to develop or discover a variety
of fiber hemp that will mature in the state. The Station has already
made considerable progress along that line, encouraging results
have been ordained, and by a continuation of such work, it may
be possible to solve, finally, the whole troublesome seed problem.
There should be a standard market classification
for Wisconsin fiber. Quantities sufficient to warrant such a classification
are now being produced. To accomplish this, both growers and dealers
in the state must realize that there is good fiber and poor fiber.
The grower must learn how to handle the crop in order that the
best quality of fiber may be produced, and the operators of breaking
mills must learn to know hemp fiber, to differentiate between
the general grades, and to handle the breaking and cleaning processes
in such a way that the fiber will be in the best possible condition
for further processes.
Farmers have learned rapidly to grow and handle
the crop, but they are giving too little attention to keeping
the stalks straight and the butts of the bundles even, and they
have often neglected the retting. The more the stalks are crossed
and tangled, the more tow will be produced. Uneven butts reduce
the length of the line, and consequently decrease its quality.
Improper retting is causing a great deal of trouble and if continued
is sure to affect the market price. Under-retting is entirely
too common. Farmers are usually very anxious to gather up the
hemp stalks to avoid the danger of their being "snowed under"
for the winter, and often take them up, bind and shock them two
weeks or a month too early. It should be remembered that the stalks
should be left spread out until the green color has entirely disappeared
and until the fiber will readily peel away from the woody part
of the stems. By giving attention to these important details the
grower can do much towards insuring a stable and profitable market,
a matter which is as important to him as it is to the mill operator.
More attention should also be given to handling
properly the hemp stalks at the breaking mill. There is too much
careless handling of the stalks in preparing them for the dry
kiln and in delivering them to the brake after they are dried,
all of which increases the percentage of tow and reduces the quality
and quantity of long line fiber. The stalks should be butted carefully
before they are fed to the brake, and the uncleaned fiber should
be delivered to the scutcher in such a way that the butt ends
of the broken material will be as even as possible throughout.
Great progress has been made in devising breaking
and scutching machinery, but there is still room for improvement.
The greatest need right now is for an improved scutcher, one that
will remove practically all the hurds from the fiber and will
not produce such a large percentage of tow. Much attention is
now being given to producing such an improved scutcher and there
is every reason to believe that one will soon be available.
Special thanks to Dave Watson, Chairman of
the International Hemp Association (IHA) for donating a
copy of the above report to HEMPOLOGY.ORG.
The IHA is dedicated to the advancement
of Cannabis, through the dissemination of information. The
IHA publishes a peer reviewed scientific journal printed
on 100% hemp paper in June and December of each year. We
strive to cover a wide range of Cannabis topics from fiber to
medicine. Please refer to our journal for a detailed look at our
aims and accomplishments.
The IHA is a member service organization staffed by volunteers.
We try to answer all requests for Cannabis information.
However, we always attend to the needs of our members first.
We encourage prospective journal subscribers to also join the
IHA. Membership fees are used for office expenses
and to finance our projects.
Payment can be made by personal check, international postal money
order or by Visa, Mastercard, or American Express credit card.
Following are the membership categories and fees:
US$ 25.00 per year
or NLG 50.00 per year
US$ 50.00 per year or
NLG 100.00 per year
Sustaining/Business: US$ 100.00 + per year
or NLG 200.00 + per year
Yearly membership includes two issues of the
IHA journal. Businesses should join as sustaining members
and will then be listed under the business name in our membership
directory. Our most important project has been financing
the multiplication and preservation of the Vavilov Research Institute
Cannabis seed collection. The IHA maintains a seed
collection of registered hemp cultivars. The IHA
also sells a Cannabis Educational Package to members only for
US$ 50.00 that contains several books, a transparency set, audio
tape and many samples of hemp products. We welcome
all serious Cannabis researchers and enthusiasts to join the IHA
Please contact us for more information:
INTERNATIONAL HEMP ASSOCIATION
International Hemp Association
1070 AA Amsterdam
Telephone/Fax +31 (0)20 618-8758