grew hemp during WWII to help supply the military with
rope. Each farmer was allowed one permit to grow ten
acres. About 40,000 acres were cultivated in Iowa, part
of the 300,000 acres cultivated nationwide. At the time,
corn was fetching between $30 and $40 per acre compared
to $100 to $150 per acre for hemp. The plants grew up
to fourteen feet tall.
A dozen hemp processing plants
were built in the "Hemp for Victory" era in
Iowa, including in Algona, Humboldt, Emery, Grundy and
Eagle Grove. Most of the operations were closed in 1945.
Three years later, the $350,000 Humboldt plant was purchased
for one dollar by a local man and used as a National
Guard armory until 1980. The Emery hemp plant, once
acquired by Lifetime Industries for motor home construction,
traded hands several times until it was finally abandoned
The following short history was included
in a 1996 story published in The Des Moines Sunday Register
("Revival of hemp industry at hand"):
"Hemp was a major crop in the
southeastern United States until the mid-19th century,
when cheaper imports began arriving. But it became a
vital crop in the Midwest, especially in northcentral
Iowa, as World War II cut off overseas supplies.
A 1943 report in The Des Moines Register
notes: 'Growing the weed as a crop looked a little silly
to some farmers at first. Many were skeptical. They
had known hemp only as marijuana, a harmful narcotic,
a weed smoked by drug addicts.'
The report continued: 'Government men
told farmers the war had cut off imports of Manila hemp
and sisal fiber' and that 'farmers need not worry about
growing a narcotic.' By the end of the war, more than
4,000 Iowa farmers were growing hemp on tens of thousands
of acres, with prices guaranteed by the government.
Herbert Howell, a farm management specialist
at Iowa State University from 1934 until 1973, said
in addition to promoting hemp production, the government
set up about a dozen hemp processing plants in Iowa
during the war."
Evidence of Iowa’s industrial
hemp farming past dots the rural landscape. In addition
to the old hemp processing facilities are the hemp plants
themselves. The Scott County Sheriff's Reserves reported
that every year they cut down and burn between 15,000
and 20,000 wild marijuana plants in Scott County alone.
Sheriff Dennis Conard acknowledged that the wild "marijuana"
plants, descendants of those cultivated by Iowa farmers
to make rope during World War II, could be dried and
smoked, but they wouldn't produce a "high,"
as they do not have the potency of marijuana plants
cultivated for illegal drug use.