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The textile industry is one of the highest polluting industries in the world. Recent studies have explored the introduction of environmentally friendly textiles to address this issue. One of these textiles is fiber derived from industrial hemp, which was recently approved for growth in the United States through the 2018 Farm Bill legislation. Motivated by hemp's potential to have a lower ecological footprint than cotton, the objective of this study is to determine if industrial hemp fiber can be produced in an economically competitive manner. Through the lenses of sustainable development and systems engineering, the basic design of the research assesses material selection decisions economically by taking a holistic supply chain view of the agricultural activities associated with industrial hemp compared to its largest competitor (i.e., cotton). With both fibers being comparable in performance, the production process of both textiles is juxtaposed, to account for interdependencies among stages with key economic and environmental considerations. As the economic cost of agricultural activities for hemp is currently uncertain in the United States, our methodology considers four main data inputs to capture the agricultural activities. First, fertilization costs are regarded as part of the cost associated with field preparations. Second, we assess the seed costs associated with cultivation. Third, the cost of irrigation (i.e., water consumption) and fourth, pest control cost represents the cost of field operations. These costs, combined with fiber yield, are used to estimate and compare the two fibers in USD per metric ton of final fiber produced. Industrial hemp is a high yield crop with (on average) 3 times more metric tons of fiber produced per hectare cultivated. Therefore, the adoption of hemp enables a reduction in cost associated with agricultural activities of 77.63%, when compared to cotton for medium total agricultural activity cost and medium yield estimates. In summary, our results suggest that industrial hemp fiber is economically viable and has the potential to be a more environmentally friendly alternative material than cotton within the textile industry.
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Industrial Hemp Fiber: A Sustainable and Economical Alternative to Cotton
Ana Gabriela Duque Schumacher, Sérgio Pequito, Jennifer Pazour
Industrial and Systems Engineering
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Abstract
The textile industry is one of the highest polluting industries in the world. Recent studies have explored
the introduction of environmentally friendly textiles to address this issue. One of these textiles is fiber
derived from industrial hemp, which was recently approved for growth in the United States through the
2018 Farm Bill legislation. Motivated by hemp’s potential to have a lower ecological footprint than cotton,
the objective of this study is to determine if industrial hemp fiber can be produced in an economically
competitive manner. Through the lenses of sustainable development and systems engineering, the basic
design of the research assesses material selection decisions economically by taking a holistic supply chain
view of the agricultural activities associated with industrial hemp compared to its largest competitor (i.e.,
cotton). With both fibers being comparable in performance, the production process of both textiles is
juxtaposed, to account for interdependencies among stages with key economic and environmental
considerations. As the economic cost of agricultural activities for hemp is currently uncertain in the United
States, our methodology considers four main data inputs to capture the agricultural activities. First,
fertilization costs are regarded as part of the cost associated with field preparations. Second, we assess the
seed costs associated with cultivation. Third, the cost of irrigation (i.e., water consumption) and fourth, pest
control cost represents the cost of field operations. These costs, combined with fiber yield, are used to
estimate and compare the two fibers in USD per metric ton of final fiber produced. Industrial hemp is a
high yield crop with (on average) 3 times more metric tons of fiber produced per hectare cultivated.
Therefore, the adoption of hemp enables a reduction in cost associated with agricultural activities of
77.63%, when compared to cotton for medium total agricultural activity cost and medium yield estimates.
In summary, our results suggest that industrial hemp fiber is economically viable and has the potential to
be a more environmentally friendly alternative material than cotton within the textile industry.
Keywords
Textiles; Industrial Hemp Fiber; Cotton Fiber; Sustainable Development; Systems Engineering
See the associated video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbEdZi0pEuE&t=7s
1. Introduction
The textile and clothing industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world (Franco, 2017).
One of the three highlighted solutions to mitigate such environmental impacts is the selection of sustainable
materials to produce garments (Resta et al., 2016). Currently, one of the highest produced natural fibers is
cotton, which requires intensive use of water and chemicals (i.e., pesticides and fertilizers) (Franco, 2017;
Sandin and Peters, 2018). Due to the growing demand for clothing, environment protection needs, raw-
material resource requirements, and ecological implications, a sustainable and economical alternative
natural fiber is required (Kostic et al., 2008).
The alternative fiber highlighted in this study is fiber derived from industrial hemp fiber (referred
to as hemp in the study). It is likely the first plant cultivated by humans for the use of textiles (Bengtsson,
2009). Hemp can also grow up to 0.31 meters in a week, making it a desirable plant for production due to
its fast-growing qualities (Oliver, 1999). Hemp fibers have several promising features. Specifically, they
are set apart from other fibers by their aseptic properties, high absorbency, protection against UV radiation,
and no allergenic effect (Kostic et al., 2008). In addition, hemp has several environmentally sustainable
properties compared to cotton, which we explore in detail in Section 2.3. Yet, it is a polarizing plant banned
in many countries due to its misconceived relationship with marijuana. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis with
at most 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content per dry weight compared to marijuana plants that have
more than 0.3% (Nichols, 2017; Robbins et al., 2013; Schluttenhofer and Yuan, 2017). However, attitudes
are changing, and several countries have removed these bans, reinserting hemp within their economies (see
Fig. 1 for the map of countries allowing the growth of hemp as of 2019). Note that not all the states in the
United States (US) allow hemp cultivations.
Fig. 1 Countries that allow the growth of hemp in 2019.
The 2018 US Farm Bill recently enabled the legal production of hemp, making it possible for hemp
to be reinserted into the US economy. Taking a closer look at hemp fiber, an existing research gap exists in
assessing the economic cost of the agricultural activities required to grow hemp for fiber purposes.
Systematic economic estimates currently remain uncertain in the US. Due to the dearth of information and
scarcity of data, we propose a systematic study based on the sustainability of hemp, focusing on its
agricultural activities’ economic viability with respect to cotton to fill in the existing research gap.
Therefore, we seek to answer the following question:
Can hemp fiber be produced in a sustainable and economically competitive manner, in terms of
its agricultural activities compared to cotton fiber?
In what follows, we provide evidence that hemp should be considered as an alternative to cotton.
By showcasing hemp fibers economic viability compared to the cotton fiber, we build a case towards the
reinsertion of hemp fiber into the textile industry, which promotes cleaner production through material
selection with a lower potential ecological footprint.
2. Theoretical Background
The following theoretical background establishes the characteristics of hemp fiber and its
comparison with cotton fiber. The supply chain for both hemp and cotton fiber are mapped to find
similarities and differences within their processes, and we highlight the environmental implications of both
plants in relation to producing fiber. Lastly, the theoretical background reviews the modest yet fast-growing
literature surrounding hemp.
2.1. Hemp Fiber Characteristics
Hemp fibers are found in the plant’s outer stem tissues, referred to as bast fibers (see Fig. 2
highlighted in a white box). This is in comparison to cotton, whose textile is found in the boll or fruit. Bast
fibers are made of primary and secondary fibers. Primary fibers are longer and larger compared to secondary
fibers. Secondary fibers are shorter and thinner with heavily lignified cell walls. These characteristics
make the former desirable for textile use rather than the latter (Mssig, 2010). Due to their characteristics,
secondary fibers are mainly used for cordage, pulp, and recycling additive purposes (Robbins et al., 2013).
The presence of secondary fibers decreases along the stem and increases with plant age. As bast fiber’s
qualities change with plant age, due to the increasing presence of secondary fiber, plant harvesting time is
key to increase fiber extraction quantity (Liu et al., 2015). The separation of secondary fibers from primary
fibers has not been accomplished effectively during fiber decertification (Fernandez-Tendero et al., 2017).
However, the quality variability can be reduced with the use of biological or physiochemical processing
allowing for future reliable methods for industrial processing of hemp fiber (Fernandez-Tendero et al.,
2017). In general, a high dry matter yield with high primary bast fiber content and low secondary bast fiber
is ideal for the extraction of fiber for textile uses (Mediavilla et al., 2001).
Fig. 2 Hemp bast fiber
To increase development of primary fibers over secondary fibers, a key aspect of cultivation for
hemp fiber is timing, which needs to be determined based on geographical and weather conditions. The
suggested cultivation period for the North Western Hemisphere is to cultivate in late April through early
May, which has been correlated to primary fiber increase (Thayer and Burley, 2017).
Hemp plants can grow in many different types of soil and environmental conditions, making viable
conditions available in many parts of the world. However, specific characteristics allow for the proper
growth of the plant. Hemp plant growth is ideal in semi-humid conditions with temperatures ranging from
7.8 °C to 27 °C (“Hemp Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp Project,” 2015; Oliver, 1999; Thayer and
Burley, 2017). Hemp plants can survive in conditions around 0°C, and after the first stages of growth (i.e.,
six weeks), it is drought-resistant, but poor conditions can impact the final stem dry matter yield (Oliver,
1999). Heavy rain that crusts soil will also destroy the crop, and standing water for more than 48 hours will
drown it (Shipman, 2018). High stem dry matter yield is one characteristic impacting high bast fiber yield
(Sankari, 2000). Lack of heat can cause height variations (Darby et al., 2018). Harsh weather can also
increase the production of secondary fibers, which is not desired as they compromise the quality of the
primary fiber (Liu et al., 2015). If soil conditions are not suitable, adjustments, which have additional
agricultural costs, can be made to promote proper growth. Therefore, the plant can be resilient in different
weather conditions, but these may not be ideal to produce hemp fiber suitable for the textile industry.
2.2. Hemp and Cotton Fiber Supply Chain
Given hemp fiber has the potential to be a promising environmentally sustainable alternative natural
fiber, further discussed in Section 2.3, the purpose of this study is to determine if it is an economically
competitive alternative to cotton. To do so, we establish a methodology to evaluate the agricultural activities
of the supply chains of both hemp and cotton fibers. This methodology takes a close examination of hemp
properties, such as its fiber characteristics, the plant’s growing conditions, and the agricultural activities
related to its fiber production process. We then use data to quantify and compare the agricultural activity
costs in USD in 2018 associated with producing a metric ton (tonne) (i.e., 1,000 kg) of final fiber from one
hectare (10,000 m2) of land. Combined with yield estimates, this allows us to estimate the cost per metric
ton of hemp fiber compared to cotton fiber.
In general, their supply chains for hemp and cotton fiber (see Fig. 4) have many similarities, but
also some key differences. The first group of steps pertains to agricultural activities that encompass field
preparation, cultivation, field operations, and harvesting. Both hemp and cotton require specific field
preparation to guarantee proper growth. The main aspect of cultivation pertains to the sowing of the seed.
For hemp fiber, the seeds are sown densely in the land to promote a tall and slender stem (Bengtsson, 2009).
In the case of cotton fiber, the seeds are sown shallow and thickly, to promote the growth of early weak
plants to support each other. Then specific field operations are required, including irrigation of the land
and pest control. Harvesting refers to the recollection of the plant during a specific time and process. For
hemp, harvesting occurs before the plant starts flowering. Hemp, when cultivated, is cut down and rolled
into large bails (see Fig. 3) ready to be transported into facilities for fiber extraction and formation. Cotton
harvesting time is after flowering, as fibers grow and thicken inside a boll until it splits the boll, indicating
harvesting time for the fiber extraction (Charret et al., 2005). After harvesting, proper transportation and
storage takes place in manufacturing facilities.
Fig. 3 Cultivated hemp
The fiber extraction process for hemp starts with the retting process, which breaks down the
pectins that bind the fiber together using chemicals or naturally occurring bacteria or fungi (Sisti et al.,
2018). Then the stems are broken down using a breaker or fluted rolls in a process known as breaking,
followed by scutching, which beats the stems to separate fibers from the core. The final step is hackling,
where the fibers are combed to remove any unwanted particles (Kramer, 2017). In the case of cotton, the
fiber extraction process starts with ginning, where the fiber from the boll is separated from the seed. During
cleansing, the fibers are cleaned and prepared for carding, where the fiber is blended. Next, combing
removes short fibers and improves fiber orientation (Ali, 2013). After fiber extraction, both hemp and cotton
fibers are in continuous slivers ready for fiber formation. During roving, the slivers are twisted into roves.
Lastly, spinning, either wet or dry, produces the final yarn (Ali, 2013; Charret et al., 2005).
Fig. 4 Supply Chain of Natural Fiber Production for Hemp and Cotton-Scope Highlighted.
2.3. Hemp and Cotton Environmental Implications
Hemp fiber has the potential to be a promising environmentally sustainable alternative to other
natural fibers. We consider energy requirements, carbon dioxide emission, water consumption, and
ecological footprint as indicators of its environmental impact. The energy required to produce one metric
ton of spun hemp fiber ranges from 15,009 MJ to 32,622 MJ (for traditional and organic processing,
respectively) (Charret et al., 2005). The highest energy requirements for hemp fiber are in the extraction
and fiber formation stages (Charret et al., 2005). In contrast, the total energy requirement to produce cotton
varies from 11,711 MJ (for organic cotton) to 25,591 MJ (for conventional cotton grown in a high energy
use system) (Charret et al., 2005). Cotton fiber requires significantly more energy input in their agricultural
activities (due to the use of fertilizers, herbicides, and irrigation systems). As the technology for the later
stages of processing is still developing, it is expected (and likely) that efficient technology for the fiber
extraction and formation of hemp fiber will reduce the energy requirements to be (at least) comparable to
cotton.
Carbon dioxide emissions, measured in kg of CO2 per metric ton of spun fiber, is related to the
amount of energy required in the whole supply chain. Hemp fiber accounts for about 3.5-5.5 kg compared
to cotton fiber with 2.5-6 kg of CO2 (Charret et al., 2005). These are within similar ranges as the energy
requirements are closely linked to the fuel mix used to generate energy.
Cultivation is where most of the water is used to produce quality hemp fiber (Charret et al., 2005).
Nevertheless, further processes of extraction and formation also require the use of water. Specifically, 1kg
of usable hemp fibers account for 2,041-3,401 liters of water compared to cotton that accounts for 9,788-
9,958 liters of water (Charret et al., 2005). Thus, cotton requires approximately 3 times more water to
produce 1kg of final fiber compared to hemp.
Lastly, the ecological footprint is the amount of bio-productive area (land and sea area), measured
in global hectares, needed for production, and to absorb waste and emission (Charret et al., 2005). The
ecological footprint takes into consideration the demand of land area compared to the available supply on
earth, measured in the world average productive hectare (gha). Hemp fiber represents a low ecological
footprint with 1.46-2.01 gha (Charret et al., 2005). In contrast, the ecological footprint of cotton fiber ranges
from 2.17-3.57 gha (Charret et al., 2005). This is linked to the difference in the yield of fiber from both
plants, showing how hemp has the potential of having a significantly higher yield per hectare than cotton.
2.4. Literature Review
Recently research has focused on making the production of garments more sustainable, and
highlights the importance of considering raw material selection (Gedik and Avinc, 2020). Specifically,
(Gedik and Avinc, 2020) shines a light on hemp fiber’s potential to be produced in a sustainable matter in
the textile industry. There is growing literature with general data on hemp and its characteristics associated
with growing conditions, fiber quality, general economic considerations, and production processes
(Fortenbury and Mick, 2014; Nichols, 2017; Oliver, 1999; Pritchard, 2019; Robbins et al., 2013; Russell et
al., 2015; Sankari, 2000; Shipman, 2018). There is also a growing literature in narrow subjects surrounding
hemp, such as research on innovative methods to insert nitrogen in the soil by using sewage sludge as
organic fertilizer (Alaru et al., 2013). Other papers focus on specific aspects of hemp like retting (Liu et al.,
2015), growing conditions (Fernandez-Tendero et al., 2017), modification of hemp fibers to improve fiber
quality (Ali, 2013; Cierpucha et al., 2004; Kostic et al., 2008), and hemp as an alternative to glass fibers
(Duval et al., 2011). Papers focused specifically on hemp fiber, like the influence of weave patterns and
features (Corbin et al., 2020), have enabled introduction into the industry. That being said, US pilot studies
of hemp cultivations note the lack of equipment in many regions for fiber processing has led to uncertainty
in the market (Mark et al., 2020). More research around hemp fiber production is needed for the US
domestic market to compete with the already established global markets. In contrast, cotton is one of the
most studied materials in the textile industry (Sandin and Peters, 2018).
Looking more closely at the literature regarding the hemp fiber production process, while some
sources provide total agricultural costs for hemp fibers, these total values are highly dependent on specific
inputs. Therefore, these total cost estimates provide limited information because, for comparison purposes,
they do not enable factoring in the effects of different inputs (e.g., time, prices, and location). For instance,
hemp, due to the high variety of seed costs (e.g., before and after the 2014 and 2018 US farm bills were
signed, as well as specific genetic profiles and origins), the total agricultural costs provided by these
resources are unable to depict current trends. In Table 1, we summarize the references that provide total
costs associated with agricultural activities (i.e., seed cost, fertilizer cost, and field operations) per hectare
of land (ha). Other relevant references include the overhead costs, which include the cost of the machinery
used, interest expenses, labor, and federal registration fees for licensing, and special tax stamps. In Russell
et al., 2015, the total operating cost with overhead is slightly less than $7,500 per hectare this is
notoriously high compared to all remaining references. A cost breakdown for this specific source reveals
the seed cost is considerably high $75,155.65/t -$150,311.29/t due to the time at which the seeds were being
purchased. Notice that the data of hemp is adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars for comparison with cotton.
Table 1
Literature Review of Agricultural Activity Total Cost for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/ha).
Reference
Activity
(Oliver, 1999)
Hemp Agricultural Operating Activities
(Russell et al.,
2015)
Hemp Agricultural Operating and Overhead Activities
(“Cotton
Production Costs
and Returns:
United States,”
2018)
Cotton Agricultural Operating Activities
(Bullen, 2018)
Cotton Agricultural Operating and Overhead Activities
Therefore, in this paper, we provide an economic breakdown on agricultural costs of hemp and
cotton in the US. We cross-validate our results with the data found in the literature with firsthand data from
local hemp farmers. We provide a data set range that depicts a systematic overview of the cost associated
with the first stage of the complex supply chain (i.e., the agricultural activities) of both hemp and cotton
fibers. Highlighting the characteristics and key differences of hemp when compared to cotton allows for
this paper to become a steppingstone for future research concerning improvements within the supply chain
of hemp needed for it to become a staple within the textile industry.
3. Methodology
The following methodology provides an outline of the study. We first establish the scope of the
study, specifically in relation to the supply chains created for both plants with the purpose of fiber
derivation. We outline the four main inputs considered to make up the economic considerations for both
hemp and cotton fiber, quantifying these inputs as appropriate equations, and stating constraints and
assumptions. We then combine these inputs with their fiber yields.
3.1. Scope and Structure
The scope of this study is the agricultural activities conducted in the supply chain for both hemp and cotton
fiber. The economic cost of agricultural activities for hemp is currently uncertain in the US. Therefore, we
consider four main inputs within the agricultural activities. First, fertilization costs are considered for field
preparations. Secondly, we assess the seed costs associated with cultivation. Third, the cost of irrigation
(i.e., water consumption) and fourth, pest control cost for field operations.
Due to the diversity in the range of the data collected for each stage, we convert the data into the
same units for the sake of comparison. For instance, sources provided currency references different from
2018 US dollars. Therefore, we adjusted the values to 2018 US equivalent dollars by considering inflation,
considering the end of the year of the published reference or date of data collected to the dollar amount of
2018 (Webster, n.d.). This conversion is emphasized when used in the results section. All the data gathered
and presented is as of October 2019.
3.2. Field Preparation - Fertilization Cost
Field preparation involves soil adjustments before cultivation to ensure the ideal growth of the
hemp plant. Hemp requires abundant organic matter, 3.5% recommended, and high fertility in the soil to
produce quality fiber (“Hemp Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp Project,” 2015). Hemp requires good
nitrogen fertilization, levels of phosphorus should be medium to high (>40ppm), a good level of sulfur
(>5,000ppm), potassium levels to be medium to high (>250ppm), and calcium at a lower level (<6,000ppm)
(“Hemp Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp Project,” 2015).
Fertilization plays a key role in the quality and quantity of fiber produced. For instance, low inputs
of nitrogen have been linked to a low fiber mass along with poor quality fibers (Alaru et al., 2013; Oliver,
1999). In contrast, an increase in nitrogen rates is linked to increasing plant height and biomass (Vera et al.,
2010). Hemp’s yield is likely to increase when the soil is matched to the plant’s requirements for proper
growth; thus, it supports the importance of proper preparation before cultivation (Oliver, 1999).
Therefore, a factor in the agricultural activities is the cost in USD in 2018 required to fertilize one
hectare of cultivated land for hemp, , and cotton, ($/ha). Fertilization cost for hemp is broken down
into three main fertilizers, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium see Eq. (1). To find nitrogen related costs
per hectare, let
be the rate of input recommended in metric ton per hectare (t/ha) of nitrogen for hemp,
which is multiplied by the cost in USD for a metric ton of nitrogen Similarly, let
be the rate of input
recommended in metric ton per hectare (t/ha) of phosphorus for hemp, which is multiplied by the cost in
USD for a metric ton of phosphorus ($/t). Further, let be the rate of input recommended in metric ton
per hectare (t/ha) of potassium for hemp, which is multiplied by the cost in USD for a metric ton of
potassium ($/t). Hence, in Eq.(1) we can estimate and can compare with the fertilizer cost related to
cotton , which has been estimated by multiple sources as a set range of values.
  
    . Eq. (1)
3.3. Cultivation- Seed Cost
After the field is prepared, hemp is cultivated, i.e., sowing of the seed densely in the land to promote
a tall and slender stem. Seeds can be sown with a standard grain drill or no-till about 2-3 cm apart, and each
seed is ideally drilled with a depth not passing 2.5 cm (“Hemp Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp
Project,” 2015; Thayer and Burley, 2017). For hemp cultivated for fiber, the seeds should be sowed closely
to ensure the plants grow tall rather than extend out. This intended plant density will promote longer and
thinner stalks producing higher fiber content and better fiber quality (Bengtsson, 2009). The compactness
will also help suppress weed competition due to hemp’s high growth rate, which will typically shade out
weeds (Mark et al., 2020).
Seed costs are the main factor considered for cultivation costs. Let be the seed cost in USD
in 2018 per hectare cultivated for hemp ($/ha), which depends on the seeding rates and the seed cost. Let
be the seeding rates for hemp, which is the amount of seeds sown in the field, usually provided in
metric tons of seeds per hectare sown (t/ha). Seeding rate is linked to the desired plant density, which is the
desired plant emergence per one hectare of land cultivated. This is different than the seeding rates as not all
seeds cultivated become plants. Let be the cost in USD in 2018 per metric ton of seeds ($/t), which is
multiplied by the seeding rates to find the seed cost per hectare cultivated for hemp seen in Eq. (2).
 . Eq. (2)
The seed cost in USD in 2018 per hectare cultivated for cotton ) in $/ha reported in the literature is
later compared to the cost found for hemp ) in $/ha.
3.4. Field Operations - Water Cost
Hemp and cotton have an ideal amount of water required per growing season. After the first growth
stages (i.e., the first six weeks), hemp is considered drought resistant. However, too much water during
cultivation will tarnish the crop, while lack of water hastens plant maturity, impacting the final stem mass
(Oliver, 1999). In contrast, cotton requires a larger input of water per growing season (Kramer, 2017). In
fact, irrigated cotton fields are found to have 2.2 times higher fiber yields per unit area than fields solely
dependent on precipitation (Charret et al., 2005). As a consequence, 53% of cotton fields globally are
irrigated; furthermore, in India, 70% of cotton is grown on irrigated land (Bevilacqua et al., 2014; Charret
et al., 2005).
The amount of water required per growing season influences both the cost and environmental
impact. The direct amount of water needed to produce 1 kg of fiber starts with the inputted irrigation during
field operations for each plant, meaning the water cost will vary by location and on local precipitation. We
assume cotton and hemp will be grown in the exact same conditions and with no precipitation. Also, the
total cost considered does not include other costs associated with labor, overhead, or transportation for
irrigation.
Let and be the cost related to water input in USD per hectare of cultivated land ($/ha)
for hemp and cotton, respectively. Let
and
be the amount of water inputted in the soil in liters per
hectares (l/ha) for hemp and cotton, respectively. Further, let be the cost of water in USD per liter ($/l).
Then, to compute the cost of water associated with hemp and cotton, we will consider the following
equation

  . Eq. (3)
3.5. Field Operations - Pest Control Cost
Currently, no pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, or fungicides) are registered for hemp
in the US (Thayer and Burley, 2017). Due to the high seeding rate and the rapid growth mentioned
previously, hemp does not provide proper conditions for weeds to grow and disturb the cultivation (Darby
et al., 2018). Hemp has the potential to host pests, but the impact on the dry matter yield is not significant.
In a hemp cultivation trial, Aphids and other pests were present in hemp during the later stages of growth,
but there was no effect on the plant dry matter yield because the plant had already gone through most of its
developmental phase (Darby et al., 2018). Consequently, the potential threats to the hemp plant’s livelihood
are during the earlier stages of development.
However, as the cultivation of hemp increases, especially in significant monoculture situations, the
potential need for pesticides could increase (Oliver, 1999), which can be mitigated with the management
of rotational crops every four years. Another positive aspect of rotating crops is that hemp is known to
purify soil contaminated with heavy metals (Lamberti and Sarkar, 2017).
In contrast, cotton cultivation consumes 11% of the world’s pesticides, although it is only grown
in 2.4% of the arable land (Bevilacqua et al., 2014). In developing countries, where environmental concerns
include the bad use and storage of pesticides, 50% of all the pesticides used are for cotton cultivation.
Insecticides (a type of pesticide) used in cotton cultivation, represents 25% of the total insecticide used
globally (Bevilacqua et al., 2014). Therefore, pesticide cost is one of the factors considered for agricultural
costs. Let and be the cost of pest control for hemp and cotton respectively in USD in 2018 per
hectare of land cultivated ($/ha).
3.6. Fiber Yield Per Hectare of Land
Fiber yield is measured in metric ton per hectare of final fiber produced. Given land availability is
limited and often expensive, plants with a higher fiber yield are desirable and, ultimately, required as
demand for fiber increases (Charret et al., 2005). When the cost of inputs and yield are considered together,
a larger picture can be built concerning the possibility of hemp being a competitive alternative to cotton.
4. Results: Agricultural Activity Cost for Hemp and Cotton Fibers
In what follows, we rely on the data collected from several peer-reviewed papers, academic,
technical reports, and firsthand data. The data gathered was transformed into consistent metrics and then
compared to establish a range of values and to assess hemp fiber in comparison to the leading natural fiber
(i.e., cotton). We compare the amount of USD per metric ton of final fiber produced ($/t), which leverages
both the costs found and the final fiber per hectare yield established.
As mentioned in the methodology, a cost breakdown approach is provided to juxtapose the
agricultural activities for both hemp and cotton. Four main inputs within the agricultural activities are
considered, as follows: field preparations with fertilization costs; cultivation with seed costs; field
operations cost of irrigation (i.e., water consumption); and pest control costs.
4.1. Field Preparation - Fertilization Cost
Fertilizer is critical to the quality of the final fiber produced for both hemp and cotton. As
mentioned, the total cost of fertilization can be obtained through Eq. (1). First, the recommended input
levels per hectare in a metric ton of fertilizer per hectare (t/ha) for hemp are determined (i.e.,
,
,
and ). Evidence supports that hemp fertilization requirements are similar to those of high yielding corn
crop (Fortenbury and Mick, 2014); in particular, we validated this assumption with the proximity between
the ranges shown in Table 2. The only discrepancy is the rate of nitrogen input level for corn, which is the
only value not within the ranges found in the literature for hemp. Hence, corn cultivation is a valuable
comparison and reference for cultivating hemp. The nutrient input ranges of nitrogen, phosphorus, and
potassium found for hemp (i.e.,
,
and ) are in range with those of corn and, thus, the fertilizer
costs of hemp are comparable (or less than) the fertilizer costs of corn.
Table 2
Fertilizer Input Ranges for Hemp and Corn (t/ha).
Reference
Plant
(t/ha)
(t/ha)
(t/ha)
(“Hemp Production -
Purdue Industrial Hemp
Project,” 2015)
Hemp
0.112-0.168
0.05-0.08
0.04-0.09
(Plastina, 2018)
Corn
0.208
0.06-0.08
0.05-0.06
Using the cost of fertilizer in 2018 of nitrogen = $661.39/t, phosphorus = $859.80/t, and
potassium = $595.25/t (Plastina, 2018), the cost of fertilization for hemp per hectare of land can be
determined using Eq.(1). Due to the wide range of values found in the literature, we categorize the data into
high, medium, and low see Table 3. In particular, the high, medium, and low cost for fertilization for
hemp, is $233.47/ha, $187.17/ha and $140.88/ha, respectively. The high and low fertilizer cost for
hemp is based on the upper limit and lower limit, respectively, of fertilizer input ranges found for hemp in
Table 2. The medium cost for fertilizer is the average of the cost ranges determined. The high, medium,
and low cost for fertilization of cotton, , in USD (with the adjusted inflation rate for 2018) per hectare
cultivated found in the literature are $141.18/ha (“Cotton Production Costs and Returns: United States,”
2018), $135.50 (Brooks, 2001) and, $118.93/ha (Bullen, 2018), respectively.
Table 3
Fertilizer Cost for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/ha).
Fiber
High ($/ha)
Medium ($/ha)
Low ($/ha)
Hemp 
233.47
187.17
140.88
Cotton
141.18
135.50
118.93
4.2. Cultivation-Seed Cost
Seed cost is measured as and for hemp and cotton, in USD in 2018 per hectare of land
cultivated, respectively. The seed cost for hemp can be determined by the cost of the seeds and the
seeding rate
(i.e., the amount of seeds sown per hectare) through Eq.(2).
The recommended ranges, extracted from multiple sources, for seeding rates are
= 0.022-0.090
(t/ha) see Appendix A for the sources and process of determining this range. To validate the seeding rates
range, we assess the desired plant density likely to be attained with different ranges. Let the desired plant
density be , which is the desired plant emergence per one hectare for hemp. Let be the amount of
seeds per metric ton. Further, let the yield needed for desired plant emergence for hemp ( be a ratio of
desired plant density (  over the amount of seeds sown
  in percent format. Then, we have
 
   Eq. (4)
In other words, Eq. (4) represents the expected yield needed for desired plant emergence based on
the amount of seeds sown. The desired plant density is set to a range from 2,000,000 to 4,500,000
plants/ha- see Appendix A for the sources of these desired plant densities. Also, consider = 59,524,859
seeds/t based on data in (“Hemp Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp Project,” 2015).
In Fig. 5, we plot the yield required to obtain different ratios of plants per hectare. Intriguingly,
from Fig. 5 many combinations of plants per hectare ratios and seeding rates are not viable. The unviable
combinations (i.e., yields above 100%) are marked with x in Fig. 5. Subsequently, misleading information
exists on recommended seeding rates for hemp fiber purposes that are not viable. This further validates the
knowledge gap existing with hemp. Based on Fig. 5, we find that viable seeding rates are in the range
= 0.035-0.090 t∕ha.
Fig. 5 Yield Needed for Desired Hemp Plant Emergence  Based on Seeding rates
Now, let us focus on the cost of seed per metric ton , which we decompose into three values
using the most recent data available. Specifically, consider the high, medium, and low seed cost per metric
ton of hemp ( ) of $19,841.62∕t (Pritchard, 2019), $8,818.50∕t (Pritchard, 2019), and $4,406.60∕t (Bennett,
2019), respectively. The seed cost per hectare for hemp () can be calculated using Eq.(2) where
=
0.035-0.090 t∕ha and =$19,841.62∕t, $8,818.50/t, and $4,406.60∕t. We summarize the results attained for
the seed cost per hectare for hemp to produce fiber under the different scenarios in Table 4, with the high,
medium, and low seed costs highlighted.
Table 4
Seed Cost for Hemp in 2018, , ($/ha)-high, medium and low highlighted.
$19,841.62/t
$8,818.50
$4,406.60/t

0.035
694.46
308.65
154.21
0.040
793.66
352.74
176.24
0.045
892.87
396.83
198.27
0.050
992.08
440.92
220.30
0.055
1,091.29
485.02
242.33
0.060
1,190.50
529.11
264.36
0.065
1,289.71
573.20
286.39
0.070
1,388.91
617.29
308.42
0.075
1,488.12
661.39
330.45
0.080
1,587.33
705.48
352.49
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
350
400
lph (%)
rsh (t/ha)
Yield Needed For Desired Hemp Plant Emergence Based on Seeding rates
Yield needed for 4,500,000
plants/ha
Yield needed for 3,200,000
plants/ha
Yield needed for 2,000,000
plants/ha
0.085
1,686.54
749.57
374.52
0.090
1,785.75
793.66
396.55
The high cost for seeding of hemp is = $1,785.75/ha with
= 0.090 t/ha and =
$19,841.62/t. The medium seeding cost is = $573.20/ha with
= 0.065 t/ha and = $8,818.50/t.
The low seeding cost is = $154.21/ha with
= 0.035 t/ha and = $4,406.06/t. Whereas we
considered the price breakdown given the available data in peer-reviewed material, we validated the
medium cost proposed via personal communication with Aidan Woishnis, President of the New York Hemp
Industries Association Chapter, that in 2019 a =$8,818.50/t is a realistic cost paid for hemp seeds.
In Table 5 we compare hemp seed costs, , with the cottonseed cost per hectare, . The most
recent cottonseed cost per hectare found in the literature is $218.98/ha for 2018 (Bullen, 2018). Cottonseed
cost is more stable, which means the high, medium, and low values are assumed to be the same. This
contrasts with hemp seeds, which has variable price ranges from $154.21/ha to $1,785.75/ha. The
differences between variances in seed costs further support our approach to breakdown the cost assessment
in different scenarios.
Table 5
Seed Cost for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/ha).
Fiber
High ($/ha)
Medium ($/ha)
Low ($/ha)
Hemp 
1,785.75
573.20
154.21
Cotton
218.98
218.98
218.98
4.3. Field Operations-Water Cost
The cost of irrigation is widely dependent on the amount of precipitation a given hectare of land
receives. As mentioned, the total amount of water required for the growth of the crop will not account for
any precipitation. This is to exemplify the input required of water and its relative consumption between the
two plants.
The cost of water for the growth of hemp and for cotton is represented in USD in 2018
per hectare ($/ha). As previously mentioned,
is the amount of water to be inputted in the soil in liters
per hectares (l/ha), which corresponds to the amount of water needed per growing season for hemp in meters
(m) the standard measurement for agricultural water requirement multiplied by 10,000,000 to convert
the units into liters per hectare. Thus, the amount of water requirement for cotton is
Further, is the
cost of water per liter. Therefore, the cost of water for growth for hemp and cotton is found through Eq. (3).
Therefore, from
we extract the amount of water (l/ha) needed to find . Based on the current
literature,
(in liters per hectare) ranges from 3,000,000 l/ha (Oliver, 1999) to 7,600,000 l/ha (“Hemp
Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp Project,” 2015). In contrast, for cotton,
ranges from 7,630,000
to 9,150,000 L/ha (Charret et al., 2005), but this can be much higher depending on the geographical location;
for instance, 10,040,000 L/ha of irrigated water was used for cotton cultivation in Arizona, USA (Charret
et al., 2005). Fig. 6 depicts the difference in water requirements for both plants, demonstrating how cotton’s
lowest water requirement needed per growing season is 2.5 times that of hemp’s lowest water requirement.
Fig. 6 Water Needed Per Growing Season 
.
Next, considering the cost of water (assuming no precipitation), we use a value of =$2.588 x
10exp(-4)/l from the 2018 Business Nonportable Water Volume Rates: Outside City for Raw Water (“2018
Business Water Rates,” 2018). As a consequence, using Eq.(3), we compute the high, medium (using the
average for
, and low water cost for both hemp and cotton, and (see Table 6). Even the highest
requirement of water input needed to grow hemp is smaller than the lowest input of water needed to grow
cotton.
Table 6
Water Cost for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/ha).
Fiber
High ($/ha)
Medium ($/ha)
Low ($/ha)
Hemp 
1,967.55
1,372.11
776.76
Cotton 
2,368.83
2,172.08
1,975.32
4.4. Field Operations - Pest Control Cost
3. M
7.63 M
7.6 M
9.15 M
K1M 2M 3M 4M 5M 6M 7M 8M 9M 10M
Hemp
Cotton
LITERS/HECTARE
Water Needed Per Growing Season 𝑟𝑤
Upper Bound Lower Bound
As mentioned in section 3.5. there is no need for weed control during cultivation for hemp, as
typically it grows faster than weeds (Darby et al., 2018). Aside from this, there are no registered pesticides
for hemp in the US (Thayer and Burley, 2017). As a consequence, the total cost for pest control for
hemp in USD per hectare of land cultivated ($/ha) is = $0.00/ha (Oliver, 1999; Russell et al., 2015). In
contrast, cotton cultivation consumes 11% of the world’s pesticides while it is only grown in 2.4% of the
arable land (Bevilacqua et al., 2014). Therefore, let the cost of pesticides used for pest control of cotton be
in USD per hectare cultivated ($/ha). Literature reveals the pest control cost, , ranging from a high
cost of $365.15/ha (Bullen, 2018), medium cost of $263.60/ha (“Cotton Production Costs and Returns:
United States,” 2018), and low cost of $162.05/ha (Brooks, 2001) see Table 7.
Table 7
Pest Control Cost for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/ha).
Fiber
High ($/ha)
Medium ($/ha)
Low ($/ha)
Hemp 
-
-
-
Cotton
365.15
263.60
162.05
4.5. Overall Assessment
We consider the high, medium, and low costs established in each of the four inputs considered. The
high costs encompass the costliest values found in available references for all stages. Medium costs
correspond to the values extracted that, to the best of our knowledge, reflect the state of the process; thus,
will be the averages or most recent data provided. Low costs are associated with the lowest values found
for each stage. We refer the reader to the specific sections for the breakdown of the costs in Table 8.
Table 8
Cost Variation for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/ha).
Hemp
Cotton
High
Medium
Low
High
Medium
Low
Fertilizer Cost
233.47
187.17
140.88
141.18
135.50
118.93
Seed Cost
1,785.75
573.20
154.21
218.98
218.98
218.98
Water Cost
1,967.55
1,372.11
776.67
2,368.83
2,172.08
1,975.32
Pest Control Cost
-
-
-
365.15
238.31
162.05
Total Cost
3,986.77
2,132.48
1,071.76
3,094.14
2,764.87
2,475.28
The total cost in Table 8 is compared with the references found in the literature (see Table 1) and
validated against the total cost determined from the cost breakdown developed. The literature review in
Table 1 shows the cost of hemp’s agricultural activities is only 65.48% of the cost incurred for cotton. This
can be compared to the total cost presented in Table 8. For high values, hemp’s cost is 128.85% of the total
cost of cotton, for the medium values it is 77.13%, and for the low is 43.30%. Therefore, the percentage
associated in literature seen in Table 1 falls between the medium and low costs found, which further
validates the methodology used to obtain the different factors is within range to the presented in the
available literature.
4.6. Fiber Yield Per Hectare of Land
Finally, we consider the final yield, which is how much of the extracted matter results in final fiber
per hectare of land cultivated. The following two metrics are considered: (i) how much hemp straw is
extracted per hectare, and (ii) how much final fiber is extracted per hectare. As such, the yield establishes
a connection between the agricultural cost per hectare and the amount of fiber produced from one hectare.
Subsequently, after determining the final fiber yield, the cost per agricultural activity can be translated from
$/ha to $/t of final fiber extracted.
Table 9 shows the amount of hemp dry matter extracted from one hectare of land in metric tons per
hectare. It ranges (widely) from 1.00 to 20.00 metric tons per hectare.
Table 9
Total Extracted Dry Matter for Hemp (t/ha).
Reference
Matter (t/ha)
(Struik et al., 2000)
20.00
(Oliver, 1999)
4.00-12.00
(Darby et al., 2018)
13.99
(Russell et al., 2015)
9.20-19.10
(Robbins et al., 2013)
10.25-18.05
As mentioned in the methodology section, the hemp fiber is found in the stem of the plant, and after
it is extracted from the land, it will go through specific processes to have the fiber removed from the stem
which leads to the final fiber. For both hemp and cotton, 20-30% of the extracted matter is converted to the
final fiber (Charret et al., 2005; Oliver, 1999; Schluttenhofer and Yuan, 2017). Therefore, we consider a
final fiber yield of 25% from the extracted matter to get a full range of potential final fiber yield in metric
tons of fiber produced by one hectare of land see Table 10.
Table 10
Total Final Fiber Yield for Hemp (t/ha).
Reference
Final Fiber (t/ha)
(Struik et al., 2000)
5.00
(Oliver, 1999)
1.00-3.00
(Darby et al., 2018)
3.50
(Russell et al., 2015)
2.30-4.78
(Robbins et al., 2013)
2.56-4.51
(Charret et al., 2005)
3.00
Subsequently, the range of final fiber yield per hectare of land for hemp ranges from 1.00-5.00 t/ha.
This contrasts with cotton’s final fiber yield that ranges from 0.80-0.93 t/ha see Table 11.
Table 11
Total Final Fiber Yield for Cotton (t/ha).
Reference
Final Fiber (t/ha)
(Brooks, 2001)
0.80
(“Cotton Production
Costs and Returns:
United States,” 2018)
0.89
(Bullen, 2018)
0.93
The lowest value of hemp’s final fiber yield of 1.00 t/ha extracted is around the same value as
cotton’s lowest value of 0.80 t/ha. However, if we take the average of the ranges for the final fiber yield for
hemp and compare it to the final average fiber yield of cotton, hemp yields 3.00 whereas cotton only yields
0.87. In other words, hemp yields 3.45 times more final fiber than cotton (for the medium value). Lastly,
considering the highest yields between the two of them (i.e., highest attainable final fiber yield), hemp leads
with 5.00, whereas cotton yields only 0.93. Using the highest levels, hemp can yield 5.37 times more final
fiber than cotton per hectare of land cultivated. Therefore, we consider the high, medium, and low
agricultural costs as well as final fiber yields across all factors for both fibers to be able to compare hemp
to cotton-based agricultural activities see Table 12.
Table 12
Final Fiber Yield based on Yield and Cost Variation for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/t).
Hemp Fiber
Cotton Fiber
Final Fiber Yield (t/ha)
Low
1.00
Medium
3.00
High
5.00
Low
0.80
Medium
0.87
High
0.93
Fertilizer
Cost ($/ha)
High
233.47
77.82
46.69
176.48
162.28
151.81
Medium
187.17
62.39
37.43
169.38
155.75
145.70
Low
140.88
46.96
28.18
148.66
136.70
127.88
Seed Cost
($/ha)
High
1,785.75
595.25
357.15
273.73
251.70
235.46
Medium
573.20
191.07
114.64
273.73
251.70
235.46
Low
154.21
51.40
30.84
273.73
251.70
235.46
Water Cost
($/ha)
High
1,967.55
655.85
393.51
2,961.04
2,722.80
2,547.13
Medium
1,372.11
457.37
274.42
2,715.10
2,496.64
2,335.57
Low
776.67
258.89
155.33
2,469.15
2,270.48
2,124.00
High
-
-
-
456.44
419.71
392.63
Medium
-
-
-
297.89
273.92
256.25
Pest
Control
Cost ($/ha)
Low
-
-
-
202.56
186.26
174.25
The fertilizer cost per metric ton of fiber produced for hemp found has a large range (from $28.18/t
to $233.47/t) compared to cotton whose range varies only nearly $50/t (i.e., from $127.88/t to $176.48/t).
The fertilizer cost for hemp is higher only when the lower yield is present; in the other instances, medium
and high yield are significantly lower (around $100/t less). There is a large variation of seed costs associated
with the cultivation of hemp. For hemp, the seed cost per final metric ton produced ranges from $30.84/t to
$1,785.75/t in comparison to cotton whose range varies from $235.46/t - $273.73/t. As mentioned before,
we are able to pinpoint a seed cost from local businesses and farmers in the state of New York, whose seed
cost for 2019 placed within our medium seed cost range, enabling for a more realistic extraction of data
whose range for hemp is $114.64/t - $573.20/t.
The water cost per metric ton of final hemp fiber produced ranges from $155.33/t to $1,967.55/t.
This can be compared to the water cost per metric ton of final cotton fiber produced, which ranges from
$2,124.00/t to $2,961.04/t. These costs only reflect agricultural activities and reflect no precipitation.
Lastly, the pest cost per final fiber produced for hemp is $0/t, which contrasts with cotton that ranges from
$174.25/t to $456.44/t.
Furthermore, the different factors and associated costs are combined to find the total cost in USD
per metric ton of fiber produced for both hemp and cotton see Table 13. The total cost variation between
hemp and cotton based on the ranges found can be seen in Fig. 7. When comparing the high total cost value
and the low final fiber yield value associated with hemp and cotton there is only a $119.09/t difference.
When taking the medium total cost value and the medium final fiber yield value associated with hemp fiber
compared to cotton fiber there is a 77.63% reduction in cost per metric ton of final fiber. Hemp fiber
accounts for 1/12th of the cost per metric ton of final fiber compared to cotton fiber for the low total cost
value, and the high final fiber yield value.
Table 13
Total Agricultural Cost for Hemp and Cotton in 2018 ($/t).
Hemp Fiber
Cotton Fiber
Final Fiber Yield (t/ha)
1.00
(Low)
3.00
(Medium)
5.00
(High)
0.80
(Low)
0.87
(Medium)
Total Cost
($/ha)
High
3,986.77
1,328.92
797.35
3,867.68
3,556.48
Medium
2,132.48
710.83
426.50
3,456.08
3,178.01
Low
1,071.76
357.25
214.35
3,094.10
2,845.15
Fig. 7. Hemp and Cotton Total Agricultural Cost (High, Medium and Low) With Range Based on
Potential Yield ($/t)
5. Discussion
Our study enables a better understanding of the properties and requirements to plant and grow
hemp. We believe our study promotes the demystification of the stigma associated with hemp and equips
decision-makers with data on the agricultural costs to strengthen the sustainable agricultural investment and
the development of new technology to extract and produce the final fiber.
Under both a medium total cost and yield for hemp and cotton fiber, 77.63% of the cost associated
with agricultural activities to produce one metric ton of fiber can be saved (on average) if hemp fiber is
used instead of cotton. For the highest total cost with the lowest yield, hemp has similar agricultural costs
to cotton. For the lowest total cost with the highest yield, hemp fiber accounts for 1/12th of the cost of cotton
fiber for agricultural activities. Armed with such estimates, adoption is more likely, resulting in the
environmental benefits of hemp (Pecenka et al., 2012).
One of the main factors contributing to these results is hemp’s fiber higher yield per hectare of land
cultivated. The low, medium, and high values presented for hemp’s fiber are 1.25, 3.45, and 5.37 times that
of cotton’s fiber yield, respectively.
- 500 1,000 1,500 2,000 2,500 3,000 3,500 4,000 4,500
High
Medium
Low
USD Per Metric Ton of Final Fiber ($/t)
Total Agricultural Cost
Hemp Cotton
Looking more closely at the cost breakdown, it is possible to reduce the fertilization cost of hemp
by doing retting in the field (i.e., by leaves falling, harvest trimming, retting process, and roots remaining
in the soil). Specifically, up to 70% of the nutrients drawn from the soil during cultivation return to the soil
(Oliver, 1999). This is important as the cost and environmental impact for the field preparation would
reduce over time (due to the return of the nutrients to the soil) and require only about 1/3 of the initial
fertilizing input on the next crop cycle.
The seed cost for hemp has been highly tied to the plant’s regulations and its recent reinsertion
within the US economy. This specific cost will vary depending on the seed cost on a state by state basis and
over time. A large obstacle faced within the states starting to grow hemp is that the seeds are not specifically
modified for the ecosystem where they are cultivated. For instance, in New York state, where Aidan
Woishnis, President of the New York Hemp Industries Association Chapter, in a personal communication
provided insight that due to seeds not being specifically altered for its environment, the whole cultivation
did not grow in a homogeneous height and stem width. Multiple initiatives in the region are dedicated to
modifying the seeds to better fit the ecosystem of this specific location, which is predicted to be available
in 3 years. Consequently, as environment-specific seeds become available, their price will decrease, and
the final yield will increase (as well as fiber quality), which will ultimately, decrease the overall cost
associated with agricultural activities.
We consider water consumption without discounting precipitation, which exhibits high variability
depending on location and time of the year. Therefore, the cost considered is over-conservative, and might
affect the overall cost of cotton more than hemp. After the first six weeks of cultivating hemp, where too
little or too much water precludes the plant to grow, the variability of water availability does not limit its
survival. Consequently, in contrast with cotton, it is possible to rely on highly variable precipitation without
a water supply to grow hemp, which further supports the sustainability of this fiber.
If the lowest amount of water required per growing season is taken for hemp and cotton, cotton
requires 2.5 times the water than cotton per hectare of land cultivated. This is further reflected down the
production line when 1kg of usable hemp fibers requires 2,041-3,401 liters of water compared to cotton
that needs 9,788- 9,958 liters of water (Charret et al., 2005).
No pesticide cost is considered for hemp, given no registered pesticides exist for hemp. This might
change due to monocultures or lack of crop rotation. The use of chemicals is of great concern for the
environment, especially due to the footprint generated by the textile industry. Thus, hemp is a sustainable
alternative in this regard. Although we have focused on agricultural activities, there is a possibility of using
chemicals during the fiber extraction and formation of hemp.
Labor cost, electricity usage, and machinery overhead are some variable costs not considered within
the agricultural activities due to their higher dependency on location. The lack of technology specifically
catered toward hemp fiber processes creates a currently labor heavy supply chain. Many existing types of
machinery are compatible with the cultivation of hemp, allowing for lower fixed costs (Russell et al., 2015).
The machinery for the extraction of hemp fiber does require specific machinery that is still evolving to
enable efficient and less labor-intensive fiber extraction.
Hemp and cotton can be grown on a rotational basis in specific global locations that maintain a
constant climate. This would enable a continuous growth of both cotton and hemp, but due to the cultivation
time frame, the amount of rotations done on a yearly basis would differ. In our analysis, we assume
cultivation is done on a yearly basis, removing the possibility of cultivating multiple times each year. Hemp
is more flexible than cotton, as it can grow in many different geographic locations around the world, rather
than cotton which requires a more specific climate. To produce hemp fibers harvest is during technical
maturity when stem and fiber yield is maximum, and before the bast fiber is heavily lignified (Mediavilla
et al., 2001). This is approximately 60-90 days after cultivation (Darby et al., 2018; Liu et al., 2015; Oliver,
1999; Thayer and Burley, 2017), which contrasts with cotton that takes 160 days (“The Journey of Cotton:
Harvesting,” 2018). Thus, cotton requires around 1.78-2.67 times the required time to grow and be
harvested than hemp.
Looking more closely at the textile industry, one current reaction towards environmental concerns
is the production of organic cotton fiber. Organic cotton is not genetically modified cotton, produced
without any agrochemicals. Yet, it leads to a 20-50% lower yield, leading to the need for more land and 37-
65% higher cost than traditional cotton (Charret et al., 2005). While there are significant barriers to
producing organic cotton, hemp production process needs minimal changes for it to be considered organic
(Charret et al., 2005; Paulitz et al., 2017).
Hemp has been mostly blended with cotton and synthetic fibers due to barriers in the industrial
process of the production of full hemp-based textiles (Kostic et al., 2008). Due to the substantial lack of
innovation in the industrialization of hemp fiber production, opportunities for improvements in the different
stages in the production process exist. On the other hand, cotton has been industrialized for many years,
which makes it the leading natural fiber but also limiting the likelihood of process improvement. The
demand for product quality for both fibers requires a high operational production to ensure profitability
(Pecenka et al., 2012). Cotton has mass economies of scale, enabling its high productivity rate. The
requirement for a high input of hemp stalks to produce fiber has led to the investment of high straw input
processing lines to allow for economies of scale. Currently, hemp fiber extraction has long processing lines
related to a high investment cost, with low mass flows and with well-known operational problems (Pecenka
et al., 2012). Therefore, research is needed to find how to improve the efficiency of the fiber extraction
process of hemp towards cost and resource reduction (Oliver, 1999).
The final fiber quality of both cotton and hemp is not considered in our study. In terms of textile
applications, a fiber with the thinnest diameter and highest strength is desired (Bengtsson, 2009). No
significant difference is found between hemp and cotton fibers in terms of colorfastness, crocking,
flammability, tearing strength, breaking strength, oily stain release and elongation (Lamberti and Sarkar,
2017). Hemp and cotton both pass the ASTM tear and breaking standards, and both have poor elastic
recovery (Lamberti and Sarkar, 2017). There are some differences in other qualities. For example, cotton
has better abrasion resistance, hemp fiber has a higher UV-resistance, but exposure to light has a larger
impact on the color of hemp fabric (Kramer, 2017). The mechanical properties of hemp and cotton blends
have 15-20% improvement compared to pure cotton fabrics (Kramer, 2017). Also, hemp has been
introduced in the textile market in high contents in blends with wool for the production of garments
(Cierpucha et al., 2004). Nonetheless, hemp textile processing is still in the initial steps towards reaching a
constant industrialized quality production line.
6. Conclusion
The textile industry, one of the highest polluting industries in the world, needs a more sustainable
way to produce garments. This study asked if hemp fiber can be produced in an economically competitive
manner, specifically in terms of its agricultural activities, and have a lower ecological footprint than cotton
fiber. We researched the main agricultural activities to produce hemp fiber and cotton with two main
variables for fiber production: (i) cost and (ii) yield. We considered four main cost inputs within the
agricultural activities. First, fertilization costs were considered for field preparations. Secondly, we assessed
the seed costs associated with cultivation. Third, we assessed the cost of irrigation (i.e., water consumption)
and fourth, pest control cost for field operations. Further, the aggregated cost was associated with the final
fiber extracted from a hectare of land, yield, for both hemp and cotton fiber. All the data extracted was
further validated with people in the field to support our results and conclusion.
Our results show that with hemp fiber, the current garment industry’s demand can be satisfied by
using only 1/3 of the land cotton uses to produce the same amount of fiber. For the lowest estimate of water
required to grow both plants, cotton requires 2.5 times the water than hemp per hectare of land cultivated.
Additionally, the production of cotton accounts is one of the plants with the highest usage of pesticides and
insecticides in the world. In contrast, hemp, due to its resilient and fast-growing qualities, currently does
not use any pesticides or insecticides.
We provided evidence that hemp fiber is a viable sustainable alternative to cotton, because it is
economically competitive. Through the cost break down developed, the agricultural activities costs
associated with hemp fiber are (on average) 77.63% less than those of cotton fiber. When the lowest
agricultural cost of a metric ton of final fiber per hectare of land cultivated is placed under comparison in
both plants, hemp fiber costs 1/12th of cotton fiber in terms of agricultural activities. These results are due
to hemp being able to produce (on average) 3 times more metric tons of fiber per hectare cultivated than
cotton.
By providing the evidence needed for textile companies to adopt hemp not only for its
environmentally friendly qualities, but by providing a cost breakdown of the first stage of producing hemp
fiber compared to cotton, this study can support the garment industry’s initiatives to adopt hemp fiber. This
work can help new investors, legislators, and insurance companies to quantify costs and assess risk
associated with hemp production. Further, it provides awareness and tools for decision-makers to evaluate
the potential for hemp as a viable, sustainable alternative in their operations being able to reach a cleaner
production in the garment industry.
7. Acknowledgments
Partial funding was supported by the Johnson and Johnson WiSTEM2D Program. Special thanks to Ralph
Brill (PureHempNY) and Aidan Woishnis (President of the New York Hemp Industries Association
Chapter), who provided data and expertise on industrial hemp production in the US.
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Appendix A- Seeding Rates and Desired Plant Density
To find the range established for the seeding rates
for hemp fibers multiple peer-reviewed sources
were compiled and converted into the same units, a metric ton of seeds per hectare (t/ha). The
range
was determined by extracting the minimum value of 0.022 t/ha (Russell et al., 2015) and maximum value
0.090 t/ha (“Hemp Production - Purdue Industrial Hemp Project,” 2015), seen highlighted below.
Table A.1.
Seeding Rates
for Hemp Fibers
Reference


Units
Conversion
Equation


Units
(Oliver,
1999)
55
70
kg/ha
kg/ha*0.001=t/ha
0.055
0.070
t/ha
(Alaru et
al., 2013)
200
seeds/m
2
seeds/m2 * 1
lb/27000 seeds *
10000 m2/1ha * 1
t/22046.62lb=t/h
a
0.034
t/ha
(Russell et
al., 2015)
20
50
lbs/acre
lb/acre *
0.000453592
t/1lb * 1
acre/0.404686 ha
= t/ha
0.022
0.056
t/ha
(“Hemp
Productio
n - Purdue
Industrial
Hemp
Project,”
2015)
40
80
lbs/acre
lb/acre *
0.000453592
t/1lb * 1
acre/0.404686 ha
= t/ha
0.045
0.09
t/ha
(Bennett,
2019)
50
60
lbs/acre
lb/acre *
0.000453592
t/1lb * 1
acre/0.404686 ha
= t/ha
0.056
0.067
t/ha
To find the range established for the desired plant density ( multiple peer-reviewed sources were
compiled and converted into the same units, plants emerged per hectare (plants/ha). The range was
determined by extracting the minimum value of 2,000,0000 plants/ha (Oliver, 1999) and maximum value
4,500,000 plants/ha (Oliver, 1999), seen highlighted below.
Table A.2.
Desired Plant Density  for Hemp Fibers
Reference
Lower
Upper
Units
Conversion Equation

Lower
Upper
Units
(“Hemp
Production
- Purdue
Industrial
Hemp
Project,”
2015)
30
35
plants/ft2
 


 
3,229,175
3,767,379
plants/ha
(Oliver,
1999)
200
450
plants/m2
 

 
2,000,000
4,500,000
plants/ha
(Darby et
al., 2018)
250
plants/m2
 

 
2,500,000
plants/ha
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