Hemp For Victory - Transcript of USDA Film
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Transcript of the Original USDA Film
HEMP FOR VICTORY, 1942
Long ago when these ancient Grecian temples were new, hemp was already
old in the service of mankind. For thousands of years, even then,
this plant had been grown for cordage and cloth in China and elsewhere
in the East. For centuries prior to about 1850 all the ships that
sailed the western seas were rigged with hempen rope and sails. For
the sailor, no less than the hangman, hemp was indispensable.
A 44-gun frigate like our cherished Old Ironsides took over 60 tons of
hemp for rigging, including an anchor cable 25 inches in circumfrance.
The Conestoga wagons and prairie schooners of pioneer days were
covered with hemp canvas. Indeed the very word canvas comes from the
Arabic word for hemp. In those days hemp was an important crop in
Kentucky and Missouri. Then came cheaper imported fibers for
cordage, like jute, sisal and Manila hemp, and the culture of hemp in
But now with the Phillippine and East Indian sources of hemp in the
hands of thg Japanese, and shipment of jute from India curtailed,
American hemp must meet the needs of our Army and Navy as well as of
our industry. In 1942, patriotic farmers at the government's request
planted 36,000 acres of seed hemp, an increase of several thousand
percent. The goal for 1943 is 50,000 acres of seed hemp.
In Kentucky much of the seed hemp acreage is on river bottom land such
as this. Some of these fields are inaccessible except by boat. Thus
plans are afoot for a great expansion of a hemp industry as part of
the war program. This film is designed to tell farmers how to handle
this ancient crop now little known outside Kentucky and Wisconsin.
This is hemp seed. Be careful how you use it. For to grow hemp
legally you must have a federal registration and tax stamp. This is
provided for in your contract. Ask your county agent about it. Don't
Hemp demands a rich, well-drained soil such as is found here in the
Blue Grass region of Kentucky or in central Wisconsin. It must be
loose and rich in organic matter. Poor soils won't do. Soil that
will grow good corn will usually grow hemp.
Hemp is not hard on the soil. In Kentucky ti has been grown for
several y ears on the same ground, though this practice is not
recomended. A dense and shady crop, hemp tends to choke out weeds.
Here's a Canada thistle that couldn't stand the competition, dead as a
dodo. Thus hemp leaves the ground in good condition for the following
For fiber, hemp should be sewn closely, the closer the rows, the
better. These rows are spaces about four inches. This hemp has been
broadcast. Either way, it should be sewn thick enough to grow a
slender stalk. Heres and ideal stand: the right height to be
harvested easily, thick enough to grow slender stalks that are easy to
cut and process.
Stalks like these here on the left yeild the most fiber and the best.
Those on the right are too coarse and woody. For seed, hemp is
planted in hills like corn. Sometimes by hand. Hemp is a dioecious
plant. The female flower is inconspicuous. But the male flower is
easily spotted. In seed production after the pollen has been shed,
these male plants are cut out. These are the seeds on a female plant.
Hemp for fiber is ready to harvest when the pollen is shedding and the
leaves are falling. In Kentucky, hemp harvest comes in August. Here
the old standby has been the self-rake reaper, which has been used for
a generation or more.
Hemp grows so luxuriantly in Kentucky that harvesting is sometimes
difficult, which may account for the popularity of the self-rake with
its lateral stroke. A modified rice binder has been used to some
extent. This machine works well on average hemp. Recently, the
improved hemp harvester, used for meny years in Wisconsin, has been
introduced in Kentucky. This machine spreads the hemp in a continuous
swath. It is a far cry from this fast and efficient modern harvester,
that doesn't stall in the heaviest hemp.
In Kentucky, hand cutting is practicing in open fields for the
machine. In Kentucky, hemp is shucked as soon as safe, after cutting,
to be spread out for retting later in the fall.
In Wisconsin, hemp is harvested in September. Here the hemp harvester
with automatic spreader is standard eqipment. Note how smoothly the
rotating apron lays the swaths preparatory to retting. Here it is a
common and essential practice to leave headlands around hemp fields.
These strips may be planted with other crops, preferably small grain.
Thus the harvester has room to make its first round without
preparatory hand cutting. The other machine is running over corn
stubble. When the cutter bar is much shorter than the hemp is tall,
overlapping occurs. Not so good for retting. The standard cut is
eight to nine feet.
The length of time hemp is left on the gound to ret depends on the
weather. The swaths must be turned to get a uniform ret. When the
woody core breaks away readily like this, the hemp is about ready to
pick up and bind into bundles. Well-retted hemp is light to dark
grey. The fiber tends to pull away from the stalks. The presence of
stalks in the bough-string stage indicates that retting is well
underway. When hemp is short or tangled or when the ground is too wet
for machines, it's bound by hand. A wooden bucket is used. Twine
will due, but the hemp itself makes a good band.
When conditions are favorable, the pickup binder is commonly used.
The swaths should lie smooth and even with the stalks parallel. The
picker wont work well in tangled hemp. After binding, hemp is shucked
as soon as possible to stop further retting. In 1942, 14,000 acres of
fiber hemp were harvested in the United States. The goal for the old
standby cordage fiber, is staging a strong comeback.
This is Kentucky hemp going into the dryer over mill at Versailles.
In the old days braking was done by hand. One of the hardest jobs
known to man. Now the power braker makes quick work of it.
Spinning American hemp into rope y arn or twine in the old Kentucky
river mill at Frankfort, Kentucky. Another pioneer plant that has
been making cordage for more than a century. All such plants will
presently be turning out products spun from American-grown hemp: twine
of various kinds for tying and upholster's work; rope for marine
rigging and towing; for hay forks, derricks, and heavy duty tackle;
light dugy firehose; thread for shoes for millions of American
soldires; and parachute webbing for our paratroopers. As for the
United States Navy, every battleship requires 34,000 feet of rope.
Here in the Boston Navy Yard, where cables for frigates were made long
ago, crews are now working night and day making cordage for the fleet.
In the old days rope yarn was spun by hand. The rope yarn feeds
through holes in an iron plate. This is Manila hemp from the Navy's
rapidly dwindling reserves. When it is gone, American hemp will go
on dugy again: hemp for mooring ships; hemp for tow lines; hemp for
tackle and gear; hemp for countless naval uses both on ship and
shore. Just as in the days when Old Ironsides sailed the seas
victorious with her hempen shrouds and hempen sails. Hemp for