In current discourse, hemp (from Latin Cannabis) is most often equated with the molecule of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). However, the plant has evolved considerably over the decades … There are certainly still, around the world, plots of hemp grown for its hallucinogenic substances. But let’s not forget that hemp is a plant native to Central Asia, cultivated for more than 8000 years for its textile fiber and oilseed. This plant therefore has a very rich potential, known for millennia.
During the twentieth century, the plant was improved to meet a greater variety of markets: textile, paper, plastics, natural insulators, vegetable oils … Today, each use corresponds to a distinct variety. But all these varieties of hemp have been selected so that they almost no longer contain THC (less than 0.2%). In France, they are grown in targeted production basins. They are characterized by very tall plants, up to 3 meters long, with long, pointed, compound leaves that will be harvested around the end of September.
A plant, 3 raw materials
Hemp is a plant of great wealth for the industry … Three of its constituents can be exploited, and for outlets fundamentally different. The fiber that surrounds the chènevotte – the wooded structure that constitutes the heart of the plant – transforms itself into a clothing or home textile (sheets, tea towels …), but also very fine papers (including cigarette) or rope . The chènevotte gives a wool which presents a good acoustic and thermal performance, but can also be used as mulching for the litters of the farm animals or domestic, or as cinder blocks for the construction.
The hemp seed , finally, is used to feed the birds or fishing bait. Guillaume Duval, site manager of the CCPSC (Central Cooperative of Hemp Seed Growers ) in Beaufort-en-Anjou (49), explains: “Other markets are developing for seeds. For example, vegetable oil based on hemp, which has an excellent omega 6 and omega 3 ratio, is developing in France.In northern European countries, it is already frequently used. “. Christophe Février, director general of the FNPC (National Federation of Hemp Producers), adds:“Overall, the hemp market is booming. The “green” qualities of this culture make it a real alternative to the traditional components of the construction – cement -, the plastics industry that useshydrocarbons if not – the car doors are an outlet, for example – or the insulators – to replace glass wool. “.
A “green” culture
How is hemp a culture synonymous with respect for the environment? There are three reasons for this: hemp cultivation requires little water, no pesticides, no herbicides (except occasionally in hemp seed production ). “We understand better the interest that this plant presents for such diverse outlets,” says Christophe Février. It is not impossible, in the future, that banknotes are composed of hemp rather than cotton, a crop that requires a lot of water! “.
After a lack of interest in hemp cultivation at the turn of the 1960s, it is experiencing renewed interest. Indeed, the arrival and craze for synthetic fiber has signaled the decline of hemp cultivation in France and the closure of the corresponding textile industries. The many qualities of this plant make it come back to the front of the stage today. European public policies also support producers who choose this crop, through production aids granted under the CAP ( Common Agricultural Policy ).
A selected plant
Hemp is a plant that has evolved a lot in the last century. Jacques Martin, president of the CCPSC, says: “We first had to create varieties with a THC regulatory rate without THC, in order to be able to cultivate them on our soil for industrial outlets. Indeed, the regulatory framework for the cultivation and marketing of hemp is very strict in France and in Europe.The first variety without THC was created in the 1960s. “ Then, hemp evolved from a dioecious plant to a monoecious plant. Dioecious plants require a male foot and a female foot to reproduce (this is the case of asparagus or kiwi). Monoecious plants, meanwhile, have flowers of each sex on the same foot (corn, hazel …).“The monoecious varieties of hemp present, among others, a quality of fiber very superior,” says Jacques Martin. This is why French hemp is exported so well today.
Because the Hexagon exports its hemp. Of the 20,000 hectares of hemp cultivation in France, more than 11,000 are French. In Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in North America, it is then transformed according to the needs of the different territories. Thus, the textile and paper industries, but also construction, plastics and food, buy French hemp to transform it. France is also exporting its hemp seeds . The genetics of its varietiesmonoecious without THC earns it a reputation for world quality. 40% of French seeds are destined abroad, mainly to Europe (the Netherlands and Italy in the lead), but also to the United States and Canada. France is also the world leader in the production of hemp seeds. The reason ? “The genetics of French varieties, of course, but also the specific skills it takes to multiply hemp seeds,” says Guillaume Duval. It is a species that requires a very special know-how. “.
Where is hemp grown?
The production of hemp seeds is very localized. The CCPSC has two basins of crops throughout the country, and this is the entire production of hemp seeds … The Maine-et-Loire basin is the largest in terms of activity. It brings together 100 producers. The second, located in Ille-et-Vilaine (35), includes 25 producers. In good years, the 1500 hectares of French seed production can give 1,800 tons of seeds!
As for the cultivation of hemp itself, it is done around two producer cooperatives: La Chanvrière in Aube (10) and Cavac in Vendée (85). The Chanvrière carries out the first transformation of the plant after harvest, that is to say that with the help of a dedicated material it separates the fiber from the chènevotte. The Cavac performs several transformations, which allows it to market finished products, including insulating wool coils.
“In seed production, we do not harvest the fibers,” says Jacques Martin of the CCPSC. Because we do not lead the cultivation of hemp and the cultivation of hemp seeds in the same way! And they are antithetical … Where we have a lot of good quality seeds, we will have poor quality fiber. So no retting for us! “.