Biosource Hemp 97Frankfurt, Germany

The second Bioresource Hemp symposium, sponsored by nova Institute, was held in Frankfurt, Germany from February 27 through March 2, 1997.  Several hundred attendees absorbed the detail of over seventy presenters from twenty-one countries during this information intensive forum.  Notwithstanding America’s prohibition on the cultivation of industrial hemp (Cannabis Sativa with low amounts of THC), the amount of work being accomplished abroad is staggering.  Research and industrial application is occurring with reference to almost every aspect of this venerable plant.  Topics ranged from breeding, cultivation, and harvesting to fiber processing, product development, and marketing.  A special forum on cannabinoids was also held.

From countries including Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Russia, where it has always been legal to grow hemp, to countries such as Germany, England, and Canada, where hemp cultivation was only recently allowed, qualitative and quantitative analysis is being performed to decrease the cost of production and increase the supply, quality, and demand of all things hemp.

Each day during the conference, over fifteen speakers provided the attendees with an average of eight hours of technical hempformation.  The headphone attired attendees listened as translators interpreted the German and English presentations.  Slide shows, overhead transparencies, and videos accompanied many of the speeches.

Some of the presentations were given by:

  • Breeders working to develop low THC strains with higher yields and better quality fiber and seed;
  • Cultivators working to grow the most hemp per square acre;
  • Processors working to extract the raw materials (fiber, hurds, seed oil) in the most efficient manner;
  • Manufacturers working with these raw materials and producing the thousands of products that hempsters claim can be made from hemp;
  • Business people working to market hemp products and determine the best way to utilize venture capital.

Evening activities centered around the “Hemp Hotel” (AM Rosenberg) in the hilly Frankfurt suburb of Hofheim.  Here, attendees and presenters gathered to continue the hemposium in a more informal manner.  The overall spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation resulted in the forging of new relationships and in the solidification of existing ones.  Strangers were, in fact, stopping strangers just to shake their hand.

The Bioresource Hemp symposium was held as part of the Bio Fach World Organic Trade Fair where hundreds of companies filled several floors of a massive convention center with all types of environmentally friendly products.  Hemp products made up a very small percentage of the overall Bio Fach Trade Fair.  This percentage will grow if hemp products can compete with the already established “green” products.  While additional research and development need to be performed to accomplish this, the prospect for expansion undoubtedly exists.

This article will outline various hempenings around the globe. It will also highlight some of the presenters and presentations.

Country Updates 

Australia is growing hemp for research purposes in several states.  Their results have been discouraging, in part because they are using Northern Hemisphere seed cultivars from France.  Seed cultivars from India and Chile will be analyzed to determine it they can be adapted for use in Australia.

Canada is entering into its fourth year of hemp cultivation, although its purpose is for research only.  Harvesting and processing equipment is being developed and the various uses of hemp seed oil are being researched by several companies.

An estimated 5,500 acres of hemp will be grown in England in 1997.  This compares to the 2,800 acres grown there in 1995.  One of the largest hemp companies in England, Hemcore, is selling horse bedding made from hemp hurds.  They are also working with the textile industry to develop spinning technology.

While it is still illegal to grow hemp in Denmark, the Society for Danish Hemp is lobbying for research trials.  They are focusing on using renewable resources to create a sustainable society.

Some of the most impressive progress is being made in the Netherlands, where several thousand acres of hemp will be planted in 1997.  HempFlax has spent thousands of dollars developing harvesting and processing machinery.  Their harvester cuts the hemp stalks into uniform lengths of six feet at a rate of five acres per hour.  HempFlax’s decorticator, which was developed under a veil of secrecy, may be made available to interested concerns in the near future.

After a thirty year absence, hemp was once again planted in Austria in 1995 (330 acres).  The acreage in 1997 should increase from the 1,700 acres planted in 1996.  There are currently 17 hemp stores in Austria, nearly twice as many from a year ago.

In Poland, there are two factories that make hemp yarn and two that make fabric.  Research has resulted in the development of a plasma treatment for hemp paper, three types of hemp particle boards, and chemical free hemp construction materials for houses.

The loss of subsidies in 1988 has caused hemp production in Hungary to decrease dramatically.  In 1996, approximately 3,000 acres of hemp were grown within 15 miles of two privatized factories.  This is down from five fiber separation factories operating in 1988.  Approximately 60% of the hemp grown in Hungary is exported.

Romania’s 1996 hemp production of 2,500 acres was processed in one of its six factories.  Burning hemp hurds provides a portion of the processing plants’ energy.  There are also four spinning mills using the long hemp fibers and four weavers working with hemp.  Romania’s hemp processing facilities are currently operating at one-eighth of their total capacity of 40 tons per month.

While Yugoslavia’s 1949 production of 150,000 acres of hemp represented 25% of Europe’s total (and 6% of global production), only 2,500 acres will be planted in 1997.  Hemp, and its closely related cousin, hops, have been studied at a research facility in Backi Petrovac since 1952.  There are five fiber separation plants and four processing facilities operating in Yugoslavia.  The extraction of hemp seed oil using pressurized carbon dioxide is also being researched.

The amount of hemp planted in Germany in 1997 will increase by 40% from 1996 to 5,000 acres.  While 90% of Germany’s 1996 production was exported to France and Spain for pulp production, 1997’s crop should be processed closer to home as the domestic hemp industry develops.

It is therefore evident that interest in hemp is world-wide in nature.  Hemp production is increasing throughout the world, with the glaring exception of the United States of America.  What’s wrong with THIS picture?


Creating and maintaining hemp varieties that possess specific characteristics such as low THC or high fiber and oil content is a never ending battle.  Manufacturer’s requirements for consistent fiber quality provide hemp breeders with additional challenges.  One of the true pioneers in this field is the Hempologist, Ivan Bocsa.  Bocsa, who has been breeding hemp in Hungary for over 40 years, has developed several varieties of low THC hemp, including Kompolti, which is named after the town he lives in with his wife.  Kompolti’s inclusion on the European Union’s list of certified low THC varieties in December of 1996 means that France’s virtual monopoly on the European hemp seed market could be in jeopardy.  Bocsa’s experience and enthusiasm were evident as he discussed various types of hemp and different breeding techniques with the overawed hempsters.

Hemp seeds are well known within the hemp community as an excellent source of fiber and nutrients.  Nutrient and oil content vary by hemp variety.  Several organizations are using gas chromatography to analyze the nutritive qualities of various hemp types.  This may result in the identification or breeding of hemp varieties that contain high amounts of essential fatty acids, tocopherols, and protein.


Hayo van der Werf of the International Hemp Association gave an interesting presentation on the effect of plant density on development and light interception in fiber hemp.  His research revealed that the density of the hemp canopy is related to weather conditions, nutrients, and the distance placed between seeds.  A canopy with a lower density hastens flowering, which, in turn, stops the vegatative growth cycle thereby decreasing the yield.  Daike Lohmeyer of the nova Institute in Germany talked about organic hemp farming.  He noted that hemp helps prevents soil erosion and that hemp’s deep root structure causes nitrogen washing by bringing nutrients up to the surface.  Lohmeyer also said that hemp’s location requirements are better than any other crop.  One of the few American presenters at the symposium, Professor John M. McPartland, gave a short but detailed lecture on diseases and pests.  McPartland discussed many of the factors that can cause disease including fungi, mold, mildew, leaf spot, bacteria, viruses, pollution, and low nutrients.  His discussion of insects included the reminder that while most insects are pests, some can be used to control harmful insects.  Professor McPartland gives new meaning to the phrase “there’s a fungus among us”.

Fiber Separation 

Separating hemp stalk into its constituent parts of fiber and hurds has historically been the biggest stumbling block to commercial production.  If too much time and energy is spent separating the fiber from the hurds, the price of the hemp components prevent them from competing with readily available materials.  Several methods of fiber separation were discussed including mechanical, chemical, and ultra sound.  The process of retting is crucial with relation to fiber separation.  While field retting is the most common method currently being used, its results are inconsistent.  Factors such as rainfall, temperature, and how the hemp is spread on the ground all effect the retting process, which, in turn, effects the quality of the fiber.  If the hemp is retted for too long of a period, the strength of the fiber decreases.  However, if the hemp is not retted enough, it requires more energy to decorticate it.

Ecco company in Germany has developed an ultrasound process through which the hemp fiber is removed from the hurds.  One advantage that this process has over conventional fiber separation methods is that green (unretted) hemp is used, thereby bypassing the retting process.  Slightly crushed stalks are submerged in water and exposed to high intensity sound waves.  This process separates the hurds from the fiber.  The fibers are then processed depending on their end use.  The solution containing the hurds can be used for fuel or in countless other applications.

Product Lines

One of the most exciting areas in the modern hemp industry involves the different product lines that are evolving.  Fully compostable hemplastics will soon be used in the construction of automobiles.  Hemp fibers can also be used in brake linings, mortar, concrete, and composite floors.

Mixing hemp hurds with lime, sand, salicylic acid and water creates a cement that can be used to build houses or refurbish existing structures.  Heiko Schiller of the Historische Baumaterialien in Germany discussed how this hemp mixture goes through a petrification process as the materials interact.  The hardened mixture produces a thermally and acoustically insulated material that has high tensile strength, inhibits fungi and mold, and is lighter in weight than conventional cement.

Another innovative method, called hemp silage, involves cutting and shredding hemp stalks and compacting them into a silo.  The process of anaerobic (without air) acid fermentation changes the pectins in the hemp into lactic acid.  In as little as three months, the silage turns into a gooey mass which is then mixed with water and potato starch and heated to 150 degrees.  The resultant gel is poured into a mold and allowed to sit 20 minutes.  The ease of processing and the potential number of uses involving the silage method could prove to be lucrative.

The pulp & paper panelists proposed that plenty of potential exists for hemp.  Gero Leson of nova Institute discussed hemp’s place in the overall paper market.  He noted that the expense required to process hemp into paper prevents it from competing with newsprint and packaging, which comprise 90% of the entire paper market.  Hemp pulp used for paper costs $2,000-$3,300 per ton as compared to $500-$900 per ton for wood pulp.  Higher prices received for specialty products like filter papers and cigarette papers allow hemp to compete on the basis of price.  Tree free paper does have several physical advantages over wood based paper including strength, porosity, density, and opacity.  Paper made from non-wood pulp is used to produce a mere 0.3% of the total paper market.  In Germany, hemp is used to produce 2% of all non-wood paper (700 tons per year).  Hemp’s market share in the paper industry should increase as more efficient processing techniques are developed.

Best of the Rest 

During a two hour period on the last day of the symposium, three of the most influential people in the world of cannabis/hemp made presentations.  Jack Herer, the man who kicked off the modern hemp revolution with his landmark book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, gave an impassioned plea for the end of cannabis prohibition.  He also held an extended question and answer session.  Next, the man credited with discovering THC in 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, spoke about the medicinal uses of cannabinoids.  The engaging Mechoulam, who has been studying cannabis for over thirty years, talked about how cannabis has been proven beneficial in the treatment of several ailments including multiple sclerosis and asthma.  Rounding out this triumvirate was Mathias Brockers, who is partly responsible for the rebirth of the German hemp industry.  Brockers’ 1993 translation of Herer’s “Emperor” into German was an immediate success.  In 1994, he opened Germany’s first retail hemp store, Hanf Haus, with a total of twelve different products.  Three years later, the 16 Hanf Haus stores operating in Germany carry hundreds of hemp products, many of them developed and produced by Hanf Haus.

One of the primary reasons for holding the Bioresource Hemp symposium is to allow people involved in the hemp industry to meet each other and exchange information.  While the symposium was a tremendous success for this reason, the role of the Internet is becoming more crucial every day.  As such, one motivated hempster, Matthew ( has taken it upon himself to create a comprehensive hemp resource, the non-profit Hemp-CyberFarm.  The Hemp-CyberFarm answers the most commonly asked questions about growing hemp.  It is also a clearing house of hemp information, so if you have some hempformation (events, products, articles) that you would like to share with others, just send it along to Matthew.  By sharing information, education and wisdom for all can be achieved.

Reliable sources have let it be known that there will be another Bioresource Hemp symposium in 1999.  As can be seen from the above notes, the advances made in the last two years have been truly phenomenal.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues as we approach the millennium and as hemp struggles to regain its rightful place as one of the planet’s most important plants.

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