Hemp: A More Sustainable Annual Energy Crop for Climate and Energy Policy

by Christina Whalen

Growing concern about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change due to fossil fuel dependency has led to the consideration of more attractive energy sources, especially bioenergy sources. In Northern Europe, the two crops that have worked the most effectively are Miscanthus and willow, two perennial energy grasses that have proven to be sustainable energy crops due to high yields of biomass from low inputs. Farmers are fairly attracted to cultivating these crops because of the declining farming market and the future promise of a biomass energy market. Farmers use break crops to control for disease and weeds, a technique that also increases wheat production. Currently sugar beet and oilseed rape are used in Northern Europe, but because of reduction in the sugar beet industry, hemp has been predicted to be an effective break crop because its root system aids soil structure. Various studies have demonstrated that it produces high yields of biomass with no agrochemical input and very little fertilizer use. It offers the potential of being an effective break crop as well as an energy crop. Finnan et al. compare hemp with other annual and perennial energy crops, economically and as a way to mitigate GHG emissions. Continue reading