DARLINGTON – The Multi-Purpose Building outside the city of
Darlington was full on Friday morning, Aug. 9 of those who are either growing
industrial hemp, helping with the process or curious about what industrial hemp
It was only last year that industrial hemp became legal in
Wisconsin again. Wisconsin used to be the leading producer of hemp during the
early 1940s. During World War II, hemp was used to make rope and at one point
Wisconsin boasted 42 hemp mills across the state.
From the beginning being grown by farmers in 1917, hemp grew
well in Wisconsin’s climate. Then in 1970, industrial hemp got lumped into the
federal Controlled Substances Act and became a Schedule I drug.
Hemp was introduced back into the farming industry in
Wisconsin through the 2014 Federal Farm Bill. Industrial hemp started being
planted again in May 2018 with pilot programs being regulated by the Wisconsin Department
of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Production (DATCP).
As part of law enforcement, Lafayette County Sheriff Reg
Gill, spoke at the meeting on Friday clearing up any misconceptions people
might have about the discussion going on in Lafayette County right now
concerning legalizing marijuana.
“Just to assure you, industrial hemp is not what we are
concerned about. We are very concerned with the legalization that is coming
just south of the border and that we will see it here. We are trying to do what
we can do to prevent that from happening based on information I have received
from several Colorado sheriffs,” Sheriff Gill stated.
The only issues law enforcement were concerned about with
hemp was an issue with theft when farmers are harvesting the plants. He was
informed the plants could be worth quite a bit of money and he didn’t want
their plants being stolen during harvest time.
Sheriff Gill is alarmed that the state has not shared any
information regarding industrial hemp with him as a law enforcement officer and
what to do when a farmer is transporting their product in a vehicle since
marijuana plants and hemp are hard to differentiate.
There are 463 licensed acres in Lafayette County this year.
It is unclear what types of hemp were planted but Lafayette County UW-Extension
Agriculture Educator Joshua Kamps believes that many of the fields were planted
with hemp that will be harvested for CBD oil.
CBD or cannabidiol is a chemical compound found in the
cannabis plant, made up of eight major cannabinoid acids. It can be made into
oil products that create a feeling of relaxation. It comes from the highest
concentrations of CBDA or cannabidiolic acid found on the trichomes of an
unpollinated female flower.
Harvesting the plant usually begins in mid-September to
mid-October. Farmers need to contact DATCP 30 days before harvesting so they
can test the plants for THC. The legal definition of hemp is that it must
contain 0.3 percent THC or less.
There is no exact science as to when a hemp plant needs to
be harvested. When harvesting for CBD oil, you want to wait until the CBD
levels are high but that can also mean the THC levels can also be high.
According to Melody Walker, DATCP Pest Survey & Control Section Chief, if
the plant tests higher than 0.3 percent of THC, it has only one more chance to
test lower or the entire crop has to be destroyed.
“Right now there are no other options for the crop that
fails, that are nondestructive,” Walker stated. “We will have to wait for
options and guidelines from the federal government in the 2018 Federal Farm Bill.”
Not only do farmers have to deal with THC levels in their
hemp, there are other evasive diseases and insects that have been causing
damage to the crop. Leah Sandler, a Research Agronomist at Michael Fields
Agricultural Institute in East Troy stated that farmers have been dealing with
Eurasian hemp bore, cannabis aphid and flea beetle infesting the crop.
Unfortunately, pesticides cannot be used on hemp because the Environmental
Protection Agency does not have data on the plant to know exactly what pesticide
residue levels are safe on hemp products, particularly those intended for human
This year has been very humid and wet. Diseases such as
downy mildew have been found on plants in Lafayette County. Sandler suggested
the ability to keep the plants less wet with drip irrigation could help lessen
Deer, rabbits, mice, and ground squirrels aren’t the only
pests that can wreak havoc.
“People can also be pests. Make sure to fence your field and
put up a sign, letting people know what you growing,” Sandler said.
When the hemp plants are finally popping out of the ground,
farmers need to keep an eye out for any male plants and make sure to get rid of
them as soon as possible. Once plants become pollinated, the CBD in the plant
drops extremely low. Wild or rogue hemp, also known as ditch weed, can cause
issues with pollination as well. Wild hemp drops its pollen all throughout the
summer. Sometimes pollen from male plants can travel up to 10 miles at the very
extreme end if there is a storm.
Shelby Ellison, a faculty member in the Department of
Horticulture at UW-Madison and working with industrial hemp research and
education, said only plants in the cannabis family can pollinate other cannabis
“Pollen could be a problem. Neighbors need to communicate
with each other to let them know what they are planting and where. It is a risk
to the growers,” Ellison said.
Different type of seed can determine if the crop will have
male plants. Purchasing a non-feminized seed will give you a fifty percent
chance of having some males. An all feminized seed will have all females and
cloned seeds should have all females because it is from the female plant. If
there are any males in the crop, they must be caught before they start
flowering to be sure the pollen has not released and then moved away from the
crop and burned.
In 2018, 300 samples were taken from hemp crop in Wisconsin
with 21 failing, each of a different variety. Only one variety of hemp called
C4 failed everywhere.
“There are still so many questions right now, there is no
guarantee for certain on what varieties of seed is the best,” Ellison added.
Most of the information shared at the meeting was educated
guesses, on when to harvest, what type of strain is the best, how to prevent
pollination, and so on. Even though Wisconsin used to be the leading state in
hemp production, the state is starting over. Wisconsin has seven times the
licenses from 2018. There are 1,240 growers in Wisconsin with 16,100 registered
acres. There were only 4,000 reported acres planted this year, which goes to
show the newness of this crop.
Hemp production has been growing exponentially everywhere.
Kentucky has increased its production 162% in registered acres since 2018.
Colorado currently has about 80,000 outdoor acres licensed to grow hemp, which
is up 562% from 2017. Oregon has a more than 1,300% increase of outdoor
licensed acres from 2017.
If the market becomes saturated, prices could drop
dramatically. It all depends on the demand of the product and laws being passed
in the senate that could allow CBD to be used in food products. Ellison and
Sandler hinted that the best things to do as farmers is grow the best crop
possible, negotiate contracts with processers ahead of time and sit on the crop
until the market turns.
To learn more about hemp and what you need to do to start
your own hemp crop, go to datcp.wi.gov and search for “hemp”.