China produces approximately 70 percent of the world's output of this textile. France is the next largest producer of this crop followed by Austria, Chile, and the United Kingdom. In all, over 30 countries around the world produce industrial hemp.
The USDA estimates that U.S. 2021 hemp production totaled $824 million. This includes hemp for all utilizations. According to textileexchange.org, hemp is a bast fiber. That means the fiber-producing part of the plant is made up of strands that run its length and surround the woody core of the stem. It has a deep root system which helps to reduce soil loss and is useful in many different crop rotations.
Sewport.com claims hemp rope is so strong, it was once the premier choice for rigging and sails on maritime vessels. It is also an excellent material for clothing, surpassing cotton, and synthetic textiles by most metrics.
Hemp is not impacted by ultraviolet light, so it works well for outdoor use. Also, according to evohemp.com, hemp-based material can be used to replace wood to lower manufacturing costs. It is stronger, lighter, and more durable than wood. Ecologically it has real sustainable characteristics as a viable mainstream fiber.
There are challenges. Hemp is still in its infancy and market acceptance is way off. Cost is another issue because it is not as widely produced or accepted as cotton. This is reflected in the price of many hemp fabric products.
According to Ken Anderson, CEO of Legacy Hemp Holdings in Wisconsin, the key to expansion of the hemp fiber sector is industry acceptance. “You’re going to get a lot more movement and a lot more advances, if you get industries that can use hemp as an input into their products,” he told Hemp Benchmarks.
Environmentally, hemp has enviable carbon capture characteristics according to the European Industrial Hemp Association. “Hemp production is a carbon-negative process, meaning it soaks up more carbon from the environment during its growth than emitted by the equipment during harvesting, processing, and transporting it.” says Catherine Wilson, the EIHA vice president.
There is significant potential with this plant for more widespread use, environmental health and profits for enterprises in spite of the fragmented market and associated challenges.