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Hemp has been grown for millennia in Asia and the Middle East for its fibre. Commercial production of hemp in the West took off in the eighteenth century, but was grown in the sixteenth century in eastern England. Because of colonial and naval expansion of the era, economies needed large quantities of hemp for rope and oakum. In the early 1940s, world production of hemp fiber ranged from 250 000 to 350 000 metric tonnes, Russia was the biggest producer.
In the early 1990s, industrial hemp agriculture in North America began with the Hemp Awareness Committee at the University of Manitoba. The Committee worked with the provincial government to get research and development assistance, and was able to obtain test plot permits from the Canadian government. Their efforts led to the legalization of industrial hemp (hemp with only minute amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol) in Canada and the first harvest in 1998.
Separation of hurd and bast fiber is known as decortication. Traditionally, hemp stalks would be water-retted first before the fibers were beaten off the inner hurd by hand, a process known as scutching. As mechanical technology evolved, separating the fiber from the core was accomplished by crushing rollers and brush rollers, or by hammer-milling, wherein a mechanical hammer mechanism beats the hemp against a screen until hurd, smaller bast fibers, and dust fall through the screen. After the Marijuana Tax Act was implemented in 1938, the technology for separating the fibers from the core remained "frozen in time". Recently, new high-speed kinematic decortication has come about, capable of separating hemp into three streams; bast fiber, hurd, and green microfiber.
Hemp plants can be vulnerable to various pathogens, including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses and other miscellaneous pathogens. Such diseases often lead to reduced fiber quality, stunted growth, and death of the plant. These diseases rarely affect the yield of a hemp field, so hemp production is not traditionally dependent on the use of pesticides.