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1 acre of hemp vs trees

Does one acre of hemp yield as much paper as 4 acres of trees?

I saw the following photo on my Facebook news feed:

I asked my friend who posted it for a source, and he gave me a link to a hemp manufacturer. I’m pretty sure it’s not a reputable source. I’m interested to see if there is any independent study, patent, manufacturing process, etc, that shows this claim to be true.

2 Answers 2

This quote apparently comes from a 1916 USDA study on Hemp Hurds as a Paper-Making Material,

The most important point derived from this calculation is in regard to areas required for a sustained supply, which are in the ratio of 4 to 1. Every tract of 10,000 acres which is devoted to hemp raising year by year is equivalent to a sustained pulp-producing capacity of 40,500 acres of average pulp-wood lands. In other words, in order to secure additional raw material for the production of 25 tons of fiber per day there exists the possibility of utilizing the agricultural waste already produced on 10,000 acres of hemp lands instead of securing, holding, reforesting, and protecting 40,500 acres of pulp-wood land

Thus, this quote would have pre-dated modern manufacturing techniques for paper production as well as modern tree-farming techniques. This means that this is actually a difficult question to answer in part because tree farms and traditional farming techniques are completely different from each other and modern technology means that the techniques involved have likely changed greatly in the almost 100 years since the study was conducted.

To begin looking at things from a modern standpoint, tree farms typically thin a stand at 15 and 24 years with a final clear-cut harvest every 33 years (see slide 5 of 15). However, hemp can be harvested on an annual basis which puts it in line with traditional farm techniques 1 . This would imply that on a very simplistic level the hemp could come out ahead just because no thinning or harvest of a tree stand was done in a given year.

So to give a bit more of a fair comparison we are going to need to look at aggregate data and and look at the average yield per year. As with traditional farming different stands can result in different yields and in general harvesting sawlogs is more desirable than pulpwood (which is used to produce paper) since sawlogs are more valuable and therefore more profitable. This in turn means that stands tend to be managed with maximizing the amount of sawlogs produced.

The most commonly farmed trees for pulpwood appear to be Loblolly Pine, Acacia, and Eucalyptus with Eucalyptus being the most common. Based on my research, Loblolly Pine and Eucalyptus productions seem to be as follows:

The yields for hemp fiber 3 on the other hand tend to be based more on historical data and tend to place the yields at 2 to 12.5 tons/acre/year with 5 tons/acre/year being the average on a good year. A modern report from a Kentucky farm put the yields at 2.8 to 6.1 metric tons/acre/year with other sites getting worse yields.

Thus, to return to the original claim, if we assume that only paper production is considered (i.e. fiber production in the case of hemp and wood pulp production in the case of trees) then the claim appears to be false with hemp yields only appearing comparable to Loblolly Pine per acre/year wood pulp yields although it is possible for hemp to out produce Loblolly Pine production when it is not grown for pulpwood.

However, if other trees are considered then well managed tree farms appear to greatly outproduce hemp farms in terms of per acre yields. The only way this claim is true is only if year-by-year data is examined due to the way tree farms are thinned and harvested due to the significant number of years of no production.

  1. For our purposes this is being defined as mechanically assisted farming with harvest being done at the ideal time to maximize yield.
  2. Green ton – 2,000 pounds of undried biomass material.
  3. This is also assuming the fiber is only used for paper production as opposed to other usage in clothing or rope production.
  4. Some useful timber volume-to-weight conversions.

Does one acre of hemp yield as much paper as 4 acres of trees? I saw the following photo on my Facebook news feed: I asked my friend who posted it for a source, and he gave me a link to a hemp

The Shocking Link Between Paper and Hemp

The Crazy Connection Between Paper And Hemp

With the world being more environmentally aware than ever before, there is now a large focal point on conservation, and more specifically, paper conservation. Higher levels of greenhouse gases are detected every year, and plastered on every office printer room is a large sign, begging you to use paper more wisely and go green. What if we told you that the world may indeed have been a very different place if the Hemp industry was not beaten in the early 1900’s?

In 1916, agricultural scientists in America discovered that it was possible to make paper from hemp pulp. Not only did paper derived from hemp have more favorable properties, it also produced four times the amount of paper per acre compared to trees. Despite it providing a higher yield and being more environmentally friendly, by 1933 the production of hemp fiber was almost non-existent on a national scale. This certainly seems puzzling. Paper made from hemp fibers was used for more than 200 years, dating back to ancient China and the Egyptians. Even the declaration of independence was drafted on hemp paper before being copied onto parchment. So why the change?

The Reasons Wood Pulp Won:

Back when president Hoover was in power in the 1930’s, the owner of one of Americas largest newspaper companies, William Hearst, invested in thousands upon thousands of acres of woodland in order to provide enough pulp for the newspaper industry. Due to the size of his investment in timber, he tried to eradicate hemp as competition in the industry he sought to dominate.

He formed an alliance with DuPont, a petrochemical company that also provided the means necessary to turn wood fibers into paper through a sulfur based chemical process. After realizing the competitive opponent hemp posed to his investment, Hearst began an influential newspaper campaign to dissuade Americans from supporting the hemp industry. He portrayed hemp as an extremely dangerous and malevolent drug, weaving his agenda into the news in a way that would appeal to the racial fears of the time period.

His newspaper had a massive domino effect and happened to be one of the main driving forces behind the illegalization of the growth of plants belonging to the Cannabaceae family. While Hearst struck fear into the hearts of Americans to damage the hemp industry, his associates at the DuPont Corporation were pressurizing the United States congress to pass a bill that would impose sanctions on those who ‘sell, acquire or possess’ marijuana. Hemp, which looked similar, was then cast in a bad light due to the stigma around the family at the time. Essentially, the wood-pulp paper industry succeeded due to it being more profitable.

The world may have been in a vastly different state to what it is now should the hemp paper industry have continued as it was, and here’s why:

Hemp Vs. Wood Pulp​​​​​​

  • Compared to its wood pulp counterpart, paper from hemp fibers resists decomposition and does not yellow or brown with age.
  • It is also one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, one of the reasons for its longevity and durability.
  • Hemp paper can be recycled up to 8 times, compared to just 3 times for paper made from wood pulp – not that recycling paper from hemp pulp would be necessary considering its veritable sustainability.
  • Hemp has a much faster crop yield – it takes about 4 months for hemp stalks to reach maturity, while trees can take between 20 to 80 years. Not only does it grow at a faster rate, but hemp also contains a lot more cellulose This quick return means that paper can be produced at a faster rate if hemp were used instead of trees.
  • Hemp pulp does not require bleaching or as many chemicals as wood-pulp. Using hemp instead of trees could dramatically decrease the number of toxins and chemicals polluting the earths water supply.

Now, this is not to say the continued use of trees in the paper industry is bad – in fact many companies are using sustainable techniques which have an almost neutral carbon footprint. It is however unfortunate that this was not always so. Should the combined efforts of large corporations hadn’t dissuaded industrial scale hemp paper manufacturing, we may have lived in a greener, cleaner world than we are in today.

The Shocking Link Between Paper and Hemp The Crazy Connection Between Paper And Hemp With the world being more environmentally aware than ever before, there is now a large focal point on