State gears up for hemp farming

By GAY GRIESBACH - For the Daily News

Dec. 5, 2017

Gov. Scott Walker prepares to sign a bill legalizing hemp farming in Wisconsin surrounded by lawmakers and supporters of the measure, including Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum over the governor’s right shoulder, on Thursday at the state Capitol in Madison. 
Submitted photo

Gov. Scott Walker may have designated ginseng as the state herb when he signed 36 bills into law Nov. 30, but that isn’t the plant that has people talking.

Walker also created an industrial hemp pilot program to be administered by Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection.

The program will study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp and establish rules for growing hemp here. Current federal law only allows for pilot programs, but the legislation provides a framework for Wisconsin if there is a change in federal law that would allow farmers to grow it as an agricultural commodity.

According to the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 11 million adults age 18 to 25 used marijuana in 2014, but the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says there is a difference between hemp and marijuana.

Their website states that hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species and contains less than one percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The DATCP has 90 days to have a system for licensing growers participating in the industrial hemp pilot program and come up with an annual fee. DATCP Communications Specialist Donna Gilson said the department has been researching other states’ programs and is in the process of developing administrative rules.

Wisconsin is one of 34 states that has passed some form of legislation legalizing industrial hemp production and research.

For the 2018 growing season the DATCP will have its rules in place, but there is also a federal component of the process to allow movement of seeds across state lines, Gilson said.

“From the 1930s to 1957, Wisconsin dominated hemp production,” Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte said. “As a farmer myself, I am excited about the opportunities this creates to capitalize on existing markets, capture emerging markets and once again establish our position as an industry leader.”

The last legal hemp crop was grown in Wisconsin in 1958, but with the emergence of synthetic fibers, is there still a market for the plant?

In 1998 Canadian regulations allowed for the commercial development of a hemp industry there and since then has issued more than 1,000 licenses.

Parts of the plant are used to make textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed and other products.

In addition to Canada, hemp is harvested for commercial purposes in over 30 nations, including Japan and the European Union.

According to information from the Alberta’s Agriculture and Forestry website, Canada had 38,828 licensed hemp production acres in 2011 and yields were estimated at 1,100 pounds per acre for a gross revenue estimated to be between $30.75 million and $34.17 million, or $990 to $1,100 per acre.

Canada exports industrial hemp in the form of hemp seeds, fiber, oil and oil-cake and in 2010, exports of hemp products were valued at more than $10 million. Most of Canada’s hemp exports go to the United States.

Since federal law allows hemp products that do not contain THC to be imported, NORML statistics state that approximately 1.9 million pounds of hemp fiber, 450,000 pounds of hemp seeds and 331 pounds of hempseed oil are imported annually.

According to information from NORML, hemp produces a much higher yield per acre than cotton and requires few pesticides.

“The establishment of an industrial hemp pilot program will open new market opportunities for our state’s farmers and create jobs in processing and marketing,” Holte said.

Rep. Jesse Kremer (Kewaskum) and Sen. Patrick Testin (Stevens Point) were the bill’s primary authors.

“The Farm Freedom Act will serve as a catalyst for new careers and rural hi-tech manufacturing for Wisconsin farmers and entrepreneurs who are poised to become national and global leaders in this industry in the decades to come,” Kremer said.