Hemp crops provide opportunity for Wisconsin farmers

Hemp crops provide opportunity for Wisconsin farmers

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - In recent years, farmers in Wisconsin have faced financial struggles, but now many are excited about a new opportunity involving hemp, a crop that farmers were previously banned from growing in the state.

Last fall, Wisconsin passed a bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp, a type of cannabis plant with a wide range of uses, including in health products and clothing.

Now, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is accepting license applications from growers who want try out hemp this growing season.

"Hemp can be used for pretty much everything,” said Joshua Larson, co-owner of Full Circle Supply. It’s a shop offering eco-friendly personal care products in La Crosse where customers can find hemp in just about anything, from soap to food.

"We've only been getting more and more hemp products,” Larson said. "You can use it for all sorts of stuff."

Larson has been closely following hemp-growing legalization.

"I think people are coming around to the fact that it's not the same as cannabis,” he said.

Right now, many of his hemp products come from a plant in Kentucky, but he said he’d love to work with Wisconsin-based farmers. With hemp crops now legalized, that may soon be a reality.

"Folks are really interested in it,” said Sue Noble, executive director of the Vernon Development Association in Viroqua.

Noble said when she held informational meetings earlier this year about hemp, 75 growers showed up. 

"Most farmers are not making money at this point, especially cash crop farmers, commodity farmers, organic farmers, grain farmers, so we're always looking for new opportunities,” she said.

But she wants farmers to make sure there's a market for the product before they plant any seeds.

"Currently we don't have that infrastructure available in Wisconsin,” Noble said. “It's a very strong product, there's a lot of potential in Ag. People just need to look at it critically."

"I think it's a great step forward,” Larson said.

Under state law, hemp plants can't contain more than 0.3 percent THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.

At least 30 other states have also legalized hemp farming, and some business experts project hemp product sales to hit a billion dollars in a few years.

The deadline to apply for a state hemp-growing license is May 1.

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