Industrial hemp in Wisconsin: 'The interest has been incredible'

Harvesting hemp (Photo courtesy MGN Online)

PULASKI, Wis. (WLUK) -- The possibility of growing industrial hemp in Wisconsin appears to be a hit among farmers.

For the past two months, ending Monday, people have been applying for industrial hemp licenses in Wisconsin for the first time. Preliminary numbers show the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection received 341 applications.

Thirty-one of those applications were submitted from counties in FOX 11’s viewing area. Fond du Lac County leads the way with six, followed by Door County with four. No applications came from Menominee, Marinette, Outagamie or Florence counties.

After initially having interest in growing industrial hemp, Pulaski farmer Adam Kuczar found out there wasn't a market for what he wanted to grow.

“They were looking for more on the organic side, so I had an issue with that, seeing I'm more of a conventional farmer,” said Kuczar.

Plus, Kuczar found out his bank doesn't provide financing for farmers who grow industrial hemp, because the federal government classifies it as a drug and not a crop.

“That was kind of the final nail in the coffin, because it was like how do I find a different bank right now,” said Kuczar.

Statewide, preliminary numbers also show that of the 341 applications, 248 were submitted to grow industrial hemp. Ninety-four applications were submitted to process the plant.

“The interest has been incredible,” said Rob Richard of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. “When we first started this process, I was anticipating 25 to 50 farmers in the first year, just based on what other states had done in their first year.”

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation believes some of the heavy interest is because of the state's hemp history. Around the time of World War II, Wisconsin was considered a mecca for hemp production.

“We know we're able to grow it,” said Richard. “We have proven we can do it. I also believe that commodity prices, milk prices are so down right now that farmers are looking for options.”

“I'm definitely not out on this yet,” said Kuczar. “I think the government and legislation needs to catch up with what consumers want.”

One of the things Kuczar would like to see is the federal government classify hemp as a crop. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said a bipartisan coalition is working to do just that.

Industrial hemp is being used in industries like food and beverage, construction building, and plastics.

It is also used to produce and sell CDB oil.

However, Wisconsin's Ag Department posted on its website this week that a license does not provide permission to produce or sell the oil in the state.

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation says it is seeking clarification on that policy.

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