MADISON, Wis. - It may seem hard to think about with snow on the ground, but the growing season is right around the corner and this year, we’re going to see a new crop popping up.
At one point, Wisconsin was the top producer of industrial hemp in the country, but it’s been about 60 years since producers were shipping it out. Now, for the first time in decades, farmers can legally grow it again.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has been accepting applications for about a week. They’ve already received 15 completed applications and have seen a lot of interest from both growers and consumers.
“There’s a lot of folks interested in coming to Wisconsin and bringing industry and businesses here from other states that are growing hemp elsewhere, enlisting growers here to grow grain and stuff in the organic food market,” Brian Kuhn, plant industry bureau director for DATCP, said.
This is a research pilot program, so it will be strictly regulated. Growers and producers must apply for a one-time license and register each year they plan to plant or process industrial hemp, according to DATCP officials.
“This program comes with a heavy regulatory component because it’s just a narrow carve-out in kind of distinguishing hemp from marijuana. Visually, they look pretty much identical in the field,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn said growers and producers must also pass criminal background checks. DATCP can also inspect fields at any time and collect plant samples. At the end of the season, growers must get their crop tested and have it come back with less than .3 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“It’s just making sure that it’s compliant with the program. If you’re below .3 percent THC, then it’s a legal hemp crop. And if not, then the crop has to be destroyed at the end of the growing season,” Kuhn said.
According to Kuhn, there is a re-test option, but most growers will use certified seeds, which have low THC to begin with.
There are thousands of potential products hemp can be used for and DATCP officials said there’s a lot of potential for the crop in the state. While it’s only being allowed under this small research pilot program, DATCP officails said it’s unclear which direction the hemp industry will go.
“The hope, I guess, would be that it would just expand into becoming another crop eventually. But right now, it comes with a big regulatory attachment to it, unlike any other crop that Wisconsin producers grow,” Kuhn said.
DATCP representatives will explain the rules and regulations Friday at the First Annual Wisconsin Hemp Expo in Milwaukee. Kuhn said there will be vendors and growers from other states talking about the various angles of the hemp world.
Growers should do their hemp homework, though. Licensed growers have to sell to licensed processors. It’s a closed system so DATCP officialscan monitor where the hemp being produced is going.
“We certainly recommend not planting hemp seeds this year if you don’t have a market to sell to, because unlike corn or soy beans, there isn’t a ready-made market sitting there waiting for you. You really need to do your homework, find that market and connect to it,” Kuhn said.
The application deadline is May 1.
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