Hooray for hemp

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Licenses increase in state 

as well as in Crawford County

By Ted Pennekamp


Applications for farming hemp in Wisconsin have gone up significantly this year over last year, which was the state’s pilot program for the new cash crop.

Wisconsin was once one of the leading hemp producers in America and it is expecting to challenge once again for a big market share in the coming years.

According to the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, there are 1,405 who have applied to grow industrial hemp this year. Of those, 1,244 would be first-time growers. Processor applications are at 692, with 636 first-time applicants. That is a dramatic increase over last year which had 247 grower licenses and 100 processor licenses issued.

Brian Kuhn, director of the DATCP Plant Industry Bureau, which houses the hemp program, said he attributes much of the increase to the removal of industrial hemp from the controlled substances act as part of the 2018 farm bill late last year. That removed much of the legal uncertainty that may have held participation back somewhat a year ago.

Donna Gilson, the communication specialist of the Agricultural Resource Management Division of DATCP said that applications in Crawford County included six processing locations to be licensed and registered in 2019, 15 grower locations to be licensed and to be registered, and 72 growing acres planned in the county.

Grant County had applications from three processors to be licensed and registered in 2019, 34 growers to be licensed and registered, and 378 growing acres.

Vernon County had applications from 25 processors to be licensed and registered in 2019, 84 growers to licensed and registered, and 405 growing acres.

“Bear in mind that these numbers may change as the season goes on,” said Gilson. “We have not processed all these licenses yet, and some may end up not getting issued if they don’t provide complete information or send payment or pass the background check. Even if licensed and registered, they may end up not planting or processing after all.”

There were no applications from farmers in Crawford County in 2018, there were two from Grant County, and 11 from Vernon County, where there is larger organic acreage and a grain processor for hemp was already in place.

Growing or processing hemp in Wisconsin requires a one-time license, and annual registration with DATCP in years when licensees intend to grow or process, noted Gilson.

The industrial hemp program grew out of legislation passed in late 2017 that allowed growing and processing industrial hemp in Wisconsin. The 2014 federal farm bill had authorized states to create pilot research programs that were administered by universities or state agriculture departments. However, industrial hemp remained on the federal list of controlled substances, because it is the same species as marijuana, but industrial hemp is bred to have very low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. This created a great deal of legal uncertainty. The 2018 farm bill removed that uncertainty. 

Industrial hemp was a major crop in Wisconsin in the first half of the 20th Century, mainly harvested for its fiber to make rope. Most growers today are growing it for either for CBD oil or grain.

Growing hemp is a relatively new option for dairy farmers from throughout the state to supplement their incomes, especially during this period of somewhat stagnant dairy and grain prices, and Wisconsin farmers have shown a tremendous interest so far. 

In its second year, Wisconsin is just behind Kentucky and Colorado which have had established programs for the past few years.

Wisconsin farmers are considered to have a bit of an advantage over those from Kentucky or Colorado because if the hemp crop has more than the allowed .3 percent of THC (.3 to 1 percent), the farmer doesn’t have to destroy the crop, he can recondition it. Therefore, there is less risk for the Wisconsin farmer.

Industrial hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant species, but industrial hemp has less than 1 percent THC, the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. Marijuana typically contains between 3 and 15 percent THC, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hemp processors can process the plant’s grain, stalks and CBD oil.

There are literally thousands of uses for industrial hemp, and the sky is the limit on potential future markets. However, farmers must pay attention to rules for selling hemp, which differ from rules for selling corn, soybeans and other mainstream crops.

The many uses for industrial hemp include but are not limited to rope and high tech uses in health, manufacturing and food applications. Hemp can also be used for clothing, milk, beer, soaps, building materials, numerous CBD oil based products and biofuels.

There are numerous uses for hemp oil-based products such as car companies producing fiberglass products with hemp. Hemp can also be a “super food” because it is high in amino acids. The super food niche has the potential to be on a mass scale because there is great potential for using the grain in cereal and cereal bars, for example.

All of these potential uses for hemp are creating are many emerging markets. Wisconsin has the potential to expand its agricultural sector, create new manufacturing and tech opportunities and ultimately produce new jobs and tax revenue by growing and processing hemp.

The Wisconsin hemp industry has a rich history and began in 1908 when nine acres were grown in Mendota and Waupun. By 1915, 400 acres were grown and there were 7,000 acres in 1917. Matt Rens, later known as the “Hemp King,” started growing hemp in Wisconsin in 1914, and continued until 1958. Rens built several hemp processing mills and rented equipment to the farmers to sow and harvest their crops.

The state’s hemp production history from the 1940s may be influencing the currently high level of interest, according to the Farm Bureau Federation. The state was well-known for hemp production during the World War II era.

The United States is the world’s number one importer of finished products made with hemp, and imports hemp-made products from Canada, China and Russia, among others.

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