The Cotton Alternative

AFBF Photo, Philip Gerlach

As sustainability gains popularity in consumer choices and how businesses source their materials, a new crop is challenging the conventional dominance of cotton. Whether you’re an environmentally-conscious individual, a textile aficionado, or in the industry itself, we hope to illuminate some of these important points of discussion that are tied to our farmlands and beyond.

Hemp farming dates far back in human history, in fact people have been growing hemp for thousands of years in different parts of the world like Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. It was used for making things like clothes, ropes, and paper because of its strong fibers. Over time its importance spread even further, increasing in numerous ways in which a single crop can provide an abundance of use applications.

In the early 20th century, we begin to see hemp farming experiencing a decline largely due to changing legal and social attitudes. The association with its counterpart, marijuana, led to its classification as a controlled substance in many countries. This legal restriction highly restricted hemp cultivation even despite its non-psychoactive properties and versatile uses, which in time led to its decline over the years.

With the decline of hemp cultivation, the popularity of cotton only increased. Providing an alternative material that is much softer and breathable, we see even today that it is a societal textile favorite. However, its widespread cultivation has raised concerns about its environmental impact due to water and pesticide usage.

Cotton Farming:

  • Water Intensive: Cotton farming requires significant water resources, often leading to over-extraction from water bodies and depletion of local water tables.
  • Pesticide Use: Conventional cotton cultivation relies heavily on pesticides and insecticides, causing harm to ecosystems, non-target species, and potentially human health.
  • Soil Degradation: Intensive cotton farming practices can degrade soil quality over time, leading to erosion and reduced fertility.
  • Biodiversity Loss: Pesticides and mono-crop cultivation in cotton farming contribute to biodiversity loss by harming beneficial insects and disrupting natural ecosystems.

Hemp Farming:

    • Sustainable Growth: Hemp requires less water compared to cotton and can often be grown with little to no pesticides due to its natural resistance to pests.
    • Soil Improvement: Hemp cultivation can improve soil health by reducing erosion and enhancing microbial diversity, benefiting subsequent crops.
    • Fast Growth Cycle: Hemp grows rapidly, allowing for multiple harvests in a single growing season and reducing the pressure on land resources.
    • Carbon Sequestration: Hemp has the ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide, contributing to mitigating climate change.
    • Versatility: Hemp offers a range of products beyond textiles, including paper, bioplastics, and construction materials, making it a versatile and resource-efficient crop.

While there’s still much to discover about the hemp plant and it’s applications in day to day items, regulations certainly stall this from moving forward. While this crop is indeed not perfect, it’s definitely a lot more beneficial to it’s cotton counterpart. The need for ongoing research, innovation, and collaboration within the hemp sector is absolutely necessary to overcome societal and business obstacles. Ensuring sustainable cultivation and business practices.