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No-Tilling Fibers

They aren't your normal no-tilled crops, but growing industrial hemp and kenaf could earn dollars as cash crops or cover crops

When Steve Groff began looking at ways to boost his no-till income, fiber crops in theory, appeared to be a profitable possibility.

Groff’s Cedar Meadow Farms, at Holtwood, Pa., no-tills pumpkins, soybeans, corn, vegetables and oats. He began experimenting with a one-tenth-acre plot of sun hemp, an industrial grade hemp, rosell and two types of kenaf in the spring of 2000.

Growing Controversy

As Groff set out to begin his quest to no-till fiber crops, he found himself jumping through a number of loopholes to get clearance from authorities including the state police and local drug enforcement agencies to no-till his fiber crop test plots.

Industrial hemp can’t legally be grown in the United States, but can in Canada. “The concern with kenaf, a legal crop, is that it looks like marijuana hemp. Industrial hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant, also looks very similar,” he explains. Though kenaf can look similar to the marijuana plant, some varieties do not, Groff explains.

History 101

The United States has a strong history with fiber crops, which originated in Africa, Asia and India and have been used for thousands of years to make rope, rugs and clothing. Prior to the 1860s, the U.S.’s paper supply came mainly from fiber crops rather than wood pulp, Groff says. “The U.S. Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. We don’t even think about fiber crop papers now, but it was important then,” he explains.

In the 1930s, the U.S. government outlawed industrial hemp because…

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