Carl Sagan once wrote, "Credulous acceptance of baloney can be dangerous. When governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic."
Regarding hemp, Nebraskans are being sold a big, fat hunk of baloney.
Why is anyone pursuing a crop or industry when the demand in the U.S. and Canada is met by a miniscule 39,000 acres -- the 2011 hemp acreage planted in Canada by 97 farmers? The unofficial reports for 2013 say that 66,700 acres were planted.
By comparison, in 2012, Nebraska farmers planted 9.1 million acres of just one crop - corn.
According to UN food & agriculture statistics, there were only 240,000 acres of hemp worldwide in 2011.
The total Canadian and United States farmland amounts to nearly 1 billion acres (167 million and 922 million acres respectively). Nebraska has 45.5 million farmland acres.
Hemp acreage in the EU (European Union) in 2011 was 19,760, down from 39,000 acres in 2005 and from 100,000 in 1998.
If Europe’s hemp composite for cars is such a thriving industry, why is hemp acreage so small in Europe?
Nebraska lawmakers and some farmers are promoting hemp as a lucrative crop with 20-25,000 different uses for fiber, oil, and seeds.
Agricultural economist Valerie Vantreese remarked in a 1999 Farm Journal article: “Not to be deprecating, but figures such as these can be easily exaggerated, or matched by other products (for example, corn)."
To be economically viable, due to transportation costs, a hemp farm must be located within 60-100 miles of the fiber processing plant.
The use of hemp fiber would require a hemp fiber processing infrastructure in Nebraska, which presently does not exist. Hemp fiber processing plants are costly to build. Proposed plants in Canada would cost $10-14 million each.
In spite of the fact that Canada has been growing hemp since 1998, there is as yet no up and running commercial fiber hemp processing plant there. Two small plants in Manitoba and Ontario process stalks for limited uses like animal bedding.
Environmentalists might also be interested to learn that without fiber processing plants, the stalk from hemp grown for seed has to be field burned, (2 tons per acre) thus sending many harmful toxins into the air.
It would pay lawmakers, farmers, business leaders, and others to use Sagan's "baloney detection kit" - skepticism - before legalizing an economically questionable crop with ties to the drug culture.
Jeanette McDougal is the chairwoman of the Hemp Committee of Drug Watch International. She is also a member of Arkansas Farm Bureau. She has studied the industrial hemp issue and movement since 1993.