A once popular crop among Wisconsin farmers is making a comeback thanks to rule changes passed in the 2018 farm bill.
That bill, among other things, describes hemp as an agricultural commodity.
A research team from UW-Madison was in Chippewa County Tuesday planting hemp to test different growing processes.
“Industrial hemp in Wisconsin was a huge crop in World War 1 and World War 2,” said Carl Duley, the UW-Madison Extension agent for Buffalo County.
But after a 70 year hiatus from the Wisconsin farm industry, hemp is considered a new crop.
Duley says industrial hemp is often mistaken for marijuana. Both plants fall under the same family, cannabis sativa, with one major difference.
“Industrial hemp has less than 0.3% THC content. Industrial hemp will not make you high or give you those side effects that marijuana will,“ said Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke, a master’s student from UW-Madison.
The 2014 farm bill allowed universities and state agricultural departments to conduct industrial hemp research.
Then, the 2018 farm bill listed hemp as an agricultural commodity. By doing this, federal agencies no longer considered hemp as a schedule 1 drug and removed it from the controlled substance list.
“We’re looking at a crop that is related, but it’s really a different crop for a different purpose,“ said Duley.
Those purposes could mean big business for Wisconsin farmers. According to Duley, hemp can be used to make anything a fiber crop, like cotton, can be used for. However, hemp fiber is stronger than cotton fiber.
“The fiber is an excellent quality fiber, one of the best ones out there and the best rope for the shipping industry is made from hemp,“ said Duley.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there are 1,224 licensed and registered growers for the 2019 growing season.
“With the diversity of the crop, it gives farmers the opportunity to add a different crop into their rotation,” said Ortmeier-Clarke. “It uses different nutrients, it has different pests that affect it and overall it gives them a more diverse array for what they’re doing.“
Ortmeier-Clarke also said she is excited to see what farmers and growers do with the opportunity.
“It’s tough to be a farmer, so it gives them a new market to enter into. That can help offset some of the uncertainty with corn and soybeans.“