Thursday, February 27, 2014

Crittenden County Once Grew Hemp For The Government

Not many people now known that during World War II Crittenden County was needed to help with the production of hemp seed to help with the military. 

At the time it was being grown, we had just lost Manila in the war, farmers in the area considered it their patriotic duty to grow the plants for the "strong cordage" needed by the Navy and for packing between a ship's hulls. Hemp had a tendency for plugging holes. Its the only crop that was known to be grown for the government on contract, so it must have been a pretty crucial thing.

 Crittenden County grew hemp for the government in 1942-43 to produce a seed supply.  The seeds were
then grown elsewhere to produce their fiber needed for rope and other uses.  The plants seems to do especially well on rich, river bottom soil but there was a draw back on the river bottom land.  In the spring many acres of the hemp fell victim to river flooding. 

In the picture above is Jick Thomas and two of his children standing in one of the river bottom Hemp fields on the Williams farm near Cave-In-Rock Landing in 1942.

 Growing hemp was a primitive process, even by 1940 standards.  The stalk was too long to go through a combine, so all the work had to be done by had.  The growing season was similar to that of corn.  At harvest time the plants could have grown to be 12 feet tall with stalks as thick as a man's arm.

They were sown in 42-inch rows, three to six feet apart.  After the male plants pollinated the females, they died and had to be cut out by hand.

When the plants were read for harvest they were placed on a canvas sheet and beaten with sticks a little longer than broom sticks until the seeds fell from beneath the leaves where they clustered.  The farmers then took the seed to a Sturgis milling company for cleaning and selling back to the government.

By 1944, the farmers who were finally getting the hang of growing hemp were out of luck.  There wasn't any market for it then, Nylon, which was cheaper and easier to produce, took its place.

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