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Hemp in Wisconsin: the risks and rewards

Posted at 9:00 AM, Oct 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-24 00:27:41-04

GREENLEAF, Wis. — In America’s Dairyland, the traditional Wisconsin farmer faces a challenging time.

Low prices for milk and corn have made it difficult for farmers to turn a profit. That’s part of the reason a new crop is garnering excitement all over the state.

"Hemp is the buzzword right now,” Greenleaf hemp farmer Dan Wiese said. “Everybody's gone hemp crazy."

The numbers back that up. In 2018, Wisconsin received 347 license applications in the first year of the state’s hemp program. This year, there were more than 2,000 such applications as farmers try to capitalize on the crop’s potential.

"I think it can be great for Wisconsin,” Wiese said “For both the small farmer up to the large farmer, I think everybody can kind of find their place."

Industry leaders in Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) expect the application numbers to rise again in 2020. DATCP Plant Industry Bureau Director Brian Kuhn said hemp is a high dollar crop with high potential for farmers.

“It wouldn't surprise me that we increase and see that number (applications) go up again, potentially substantially in the year ahead," Kuhn said.

Wisconsin hemp farmers are able to use their plants for seeds, grain, fiber, and extracts like CBD. Forecasts for CBD project an industry worth billions of dollars in the near future. Wisconsin farmers can help meet that demand.

However, farming hemp isn’t easy. The crop does come with some major risks.

"It is, that's the reality,” Kuhn said. “I have significant concerns for our growers, making sure that they really understand what they're getting into."

Hemp can be a difficult crop to grow. It’s labor intensive, and there are tight harvest windows. In Wisconsin, weather can be unpredictable.

"This year has been extremely challenging,” Wiese said. “It's a learning year. We learned a tremendous amount of things through successes and failures."

Wiese and hundreds of other farmers must balance the risks and rewards of hemp farming.

“We've had so much fun just learning and figuring this whole thing out that we'll see where this takes us," Wiese said.