Once a leading producer of industrial hemp, the crop is set to make a return to the U.S. state of Wisconsin after Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 119 into law last week.
A pilot program is to be established in the state that will examine the cultivation, processing and marketing of industrial hemp and be administered by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).
Things should move quite quickly for the pilot as DATCP only has 90 days to develop a system for licensing growers who will participate in the program.
Given the constraints on industrial hemp in U.S. Federal law, there will be significant limitation on hemp farming in Wisconsin for the foreseeable future, however the framework of SB119 will enable expansion if things should change.
Senate Bill 119, which was passed by the Wisconsin Assembly unanimously early last month, also allows DATCP and the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to develop a Wisconsin heritage industrial hemp seed.
As in many other states, any industrial hemp grown will not be able to have more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis.
Wisconsin’s association with hemp began in 1908 with 6 acres of the crop. Its popularity grew rapidly and according to a 1918 report, Wisconsin was the second largest hemp producing state in the USA by 1917. Of the 42,000 acres of hemp grown in the United States that year, Wisconsin accounted for 7,000 acres. That same year, Kentucky had 17,000 acres under cultivation.
Back then, the interest in hemp was primarily around fiber as it was considered a critical crop in relation to war efforts.
“The yields of fiber obtained in this state have been entirely satisfactory, ranging from 1,000 to over 1,500 pounds to the acre; the quality of Wisconsin’s hemp fiber is equal to that produced in any other state,” stated the 1918 report published by the Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Wisconsin.
According to Wikipedia, Wisconsin’s Rens Hemp Company was the last legal hemp producer nationwide to cease operations, which occurred in 1958.
Co-sponsor of SB119, State Senator Patrick Testin, sees a big future for industrial hemp in his state.
“We import about $500 million from Canada alone into the United States of industrial hemp,” he said. “This is a prime opportunity to lessen our dependence on foreign imports, and have those imports grown right here in Wisconsin.”