The Argument For Hemp Paper...
Dave Seber, in an interview for High Times magazine, indicated that being in the "lumber business for almost 15 years now...I have watched the forests being taken out here." Seber has been a redwood logger and president of C&S Lumber, an R&D organization in Oregon dedicated to finding replacement fibers for wood.
"As I see it," Seber says "we've got 10 to 20 years, tops, before the entire ecosystem, as we know it, will collapse because of what they are doing in these forests." He goes on to suggest that the "environmental threat" to forests will worsen if no alternate fiber to wood is found. And, as you probably guessed, he thinks hemp is the answer.
Edit: This prediction was made in 1997.
Carol Moran heads a company called Living Tree Paper Company in Eugene, Oregon. She, according to an article in ENN Online, is convinced that hemp can "single-handedly stop worldwide deforestation." Her company's magazine is even printed on non-tree hemp paper.
Further, Mary Kane, publisher of HempWorld, a quarterly journal of the hemp movement says that "eventually the DEA will be forced to relinquish the ban on hemp farming. It's a plant that can provide alternatives to anything synthetic." She further states that "hemp can save the world but we have to give it a chance."
It does seem that hemp is making a comeback almost everywhere except the United States. Canada has made experimental hemp cultivation a policy. China is a leading country in the production of hemp and hemp products. South Africa is growing hemp, New Zealand is growing hemp, Switzerland is growing hemp, and on and on. Projects in Kentucky and California were politically strangled, and hemp cultivation in the U.S. is a long time in coming, if ever.
In summary, the hemp movement advocates that hemp fiber is more durable than wood and can be recycled more frequently than tree fiber. Hemp produces a highly nutritious seed crop that can be of comparable value to the fiber crop. Agriculturally grown hemp would fit well with natural forests and tree plantations.
The Argument Against Hemp Paper...
Detractors of the agricultural production of annual fiber from hemp farms are just as vocal as farmed hemp fiber advocates. Their own reasoning is that hemp farming is very demanding on the environment and would negate any possible benefits ascribed to it. Hemp fiber would be cost prohibitive when compared to silvicultural production of wood fiber.
Any annual crop demands a period of establishment and reestablishment, during which the site has to be intensely cultivated and treated for weeds and pests. This has to be repeated until the crop is properly established and done on an annual basis for crops like flax, wheat, cotton, or hemp. Most tree species, even if grown on a fast rotation, would mean less site disturbance and have much less need for chemicals; Trees are more forgiving of site preparation, chemical support, and revisits after planting.
Large areas of cultivated fields would be necessary. This would, in itself, mean clearing land of trees and would comprise the best land in terms of fertility and topography. Irrigation would become necessary in some areas for best production. Tending hemp would be expensive and compete for land and other resources.
Dr. Patrick Moore writing on the subject on his web site Greenspirit indicates that "at least twice as much nutrient must be available in an easily assimilable form as will finally be removed from the soil by the leaf-free harvest". Hemp is a nutrient sponge. Crop rotation and the added expense of stripping leaves and flowers would be the desired method of nutrient replacement. All this adds to increased disturbance of the site, the addition of either manure crops or chemical nutrients, and an increase in per acre expense.
The last little kink in the use of hemp for fiber is a significant concern called cost. According to Austrialia's NAFI and Heike Von Der Lancken, "hemp pulp costs $2,500 per ton as compared to $400 per ton for typical bleached wood pulp." This would create the need for another farm subsidy to make costs match.
Valerie Vantreese, University of Kentucky's Department of Agricultural Economics, has written a very concise abstract based on a paper called International Hemp: Global Markets and Prices . In the abstract she suggests that world hemp production is "dramatically" down from the early 1980's and is dominated by low-cost producers; China, India, and Russia produce 70% of the world supply.
Multinational fiber companies (Weyerhauser, Masonite, International Paper) interested in hemp as a source are well prepared to go to those locations to do business if there is a profit to be made. Market risk to the US farmer (if he were allowed to grow hemp) may be prohibitive because of these cheaper international growers.