State hemp farmers may still face barriers

Wisconsin State Farmer

MADISON (AP) — Industrial hemp is an option for Wisconsin farmers for the first time since lawmakers lifted a ban on the crop this fall.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has until March to create regulations for the hemp industry, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The state will likely form an application process and require farmers to obtain seeds through the department, said Allison Pratt-Szeliga, a researcher from the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

Farmers don't need special modifications to equipment for planting and harvesting industrial hemp, however, they do need to find a market for the crop.

"I suppose technically it's possible that folks could be planting in spring," Pratt-Szeliga said. "If the regulations are out and the application process is in place and people go through that process and are approved and are able to purchase seed within our planting windows. So there might be a little bit of a rush."

But farmers interested in growing hemp still face barriers to break into the business, according to industry experts.

Farmers won't be able to rely on selling their crop to the closest grain elevator and will want to have a contract before growing hemp, said Adam Kuzcer, a member of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau board of directors.

"Before we plant it, we've got to have a market for it," Kuzcer said. "There will definitely be people trying to get on it but it's going to be a limited number (based on) what the processor will be willing to give out contracts for."

The first year will be more experimental until a larger infrastructure for the crop can be developed, Kuzcer said.

Ken Anderson, president of the seed company Legacy Hemp, estimates that 50 farmers will likely grow hemp in Wisconsin this year despite the uncertainty.

Farmers will likely have an easier time getting into the market in 2019, Pratt-Szeliga said.