‘This is still a high-risk crop’: Farmers frustrated as hemp pilot program works through second year

Gov. Tony Evers declared Friday to be Wisconsin Hemp Day, acknowledging the enormous growth the industry has had in just the last two years.

But with the successes that growth has brought, there have also been failures as many growers are forced to destroy their crop for going over the legal threshold for THC, costing them tens of thousands of dollars.

Hemp provides numerous benefits to the state of Wisconsin and new opportunities for our agricultural industry. Proud to declare today Wisconsin Hemp Day as we celebrate the return of this versatile crop to Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/dYuLsGO0cu

— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) October 18, 2019

“It’s part of the high-risk nature of this crop,” said Brian Kuhn, the director of Plant Industry Bureau at the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “I think in time that risk will decline as we learn more and get a better idea of how these plants do in the state of Wisconsin, but there’s no question, this is still a high-risk crop and a high-risk endeavor to venture into.”

‘This is still a high-risk crop’: Farmers frustrated as hemp pilot program works through second year

Kuhn said since the program is still in its pilot stages, the department and the farmers still have a lot to learn but that farmers need to understand the risk they take getting into hemp production, especially at this level.

Farmer Randy Cohn said his experience was mostly positive this year, but he still had to destroy about 100 pounds of hemp because it tested too high in THC. This isn’t his first crop, though for many other growers in the program, it is.

“I try to work with other people who have experience doing this,” Cohn said. “And I try and learn from what they have to say and how they do it.”

He said the issue many faced, including himself, was getting someone from DATCP to test the crop in time.

‘This is still a high-risk crop’: Farmers frustrated as hemp pilot program works through second year

The department is required to test every field to make sure its crops are coming in below 0.3 percent THC. Kuhn said the department sends staff to do this and, because it is illegal to mail the sample, the tester must drive the sample to the lab to have it tested.

The process of getting the sample can take hours, and the results from the test can take weeks. By itself, Cohn said this system is risky because farmers want to wait and see if the crop will be legal before they spend the time harvesting it, but in just the few weeks it is at the lab, the plant can go from under 0.3 percent THC to over. This year, however, the department was stretched thin, and the department was unable to remain consistent in the timeline it gave farmers for how long it would take for a tester to come out and for the test to be complete.

‘This is still a high-risk crop’: Farmers frustrated as hemp pilot program works through second year

“It is a high risk, but there’s also things that can be done to mitigate some of that risk,” Cohn said.

Kuhn said while the number of enrollees in the program last year was less than 150, this year it was more than 1,200, more than eight times as many. The number of people they had to help out with testing didn’t even triple.

‘This is still a high-risk crop’: Farmers frustrated as hemp pilot program works through second year

He said the department is working on the program for next year, and there is legislation going through the Statehouse that might help. The department would need more funding to increase staffing, and other details on the program are still a work in progress. He said any farmers with feedback are welcome to reach out.

Cohn said he hopes to help DATCP figure out what will work better. He doesn’t have any ill will for the organization, but he doesn’t want to see this happen to growers again next year.

“In the future, we hope to work together to try and mitigate some of this risk for the farmer,” Cohn said.

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