Kenaf, Hibiscous Cannabinus is a member of the Malvaceae family and related to cotton and okra. The bast and core or shiv fiber of Kenaf is similar to that of Hemp, Cannabis Sativa.
Kenaf has been grown for many uses, from car parts to specialty papers, computer ink and toner and other more modern products created from carbon.
The sustainable potential of Kenaf is one of it's most exciting. Growing 8 feet or more in even northern climates, 20 feet in the tropics, Kenaf captures large quantities of CO2 and stores it as solid plant mass. The plant mass can be separated after harvest and used either on farm or for industrial purposes.
While not related to hemp and with no cross-pollination risk, some Kenaf varieties have a leaf structure similar to the widely recognized Cannabis leaf.
Kenaf is actually a more valuable carbon source in industry than hemp and many manufacturers of eco-friendly products use fibers from both in their processing.
The partial legalization of growing hemp at commercial scales has been highly anticipated by many.
In Washington state, Industrial Hemp (varieties with THC below 0.3%) have been removed from the State Controlled Substance list. Industrial Hemp has not been removed from the Federal Controlled Substance list however. The 2014 Federal Farm Bill allows Industrial hemp to be grown for research purposes with a license issued by a State or accredited University.
The Industrial Hemp research program (IHRP) run by the WSDA was arguably the most restrictive program in the nation and so expensive for the WSDA to administer that the program is suspended pending a funding request.
The Washington state Govenor declined to include funding for the IHRP in his 2018 annual budget.
The IHRP was a failure on many levels and most likely will not be refunded by the legislature during a short session where they have other priorities.
So with these facts in hand farmers have a tough decision to make. Do we grow hemp with no license or look to another solution?
I wanted to plant hemp in 2017 as much as anyone I met during my travels around Western Washington, but I am not a land owner. I might take the risk on my own land if I was sure I was not within pollination range of the large, highly competitive legal recreational Cannabis market, but I cannot ask others to take the risk for me.
The politics in Washington state are partisan and at times nasty and I really want to sequester C02 this summer not wait around for another back room deal to be struck.
Kenaf has no restrictions and a body of scientific work behind it but new markets for bast and core fiber are needed to scale the industry. The hemp fiber industry in the US has been slow to develop because profits are not turned quickly. Kenaf and hemp for fiber can and will be grown profitability and sustainably.
Thousand of acres of farmland lay fallow in Western Washington because many crops cannot be grown profitability. Adding Kenaf as a rotation crop can add another profitable tool to help farmers stay on their farms.