Rob Richard was the Senior Director of Governmental Relations at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF) from 2014 through 2019 and a key player in WFBF’s hemp legislation efforts. Although he left WFBF to pursue another opportunity, he’s still active in industrial hemp issues; he volunteers as president of the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance and occasionally helps the WFBF team advocate for hemp.
The WFBF was instrumental in supporting hemp on state and national levels. “The Farm Bureau was the driving lobbying force behind former state Rep. Jesse Kremer and state Sen. Patrick Testin’s effort to legalize hemp in the state under the hemp pilot provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill,” Richard states. He recalls how, in August 2016, he received a call from Kremer regarding WFBF’s position on hemp. “I told him we didn’t have one. He asked if I could do something about that.” In December 2016, the voting delegates of WFBF adopted policy to support hemp legalization at their annual meeting. That gave Richard the green light to start lobbying on hemp, but he dove into uncharted territory because there were few others to rely on for expertise.
Throughout 2017, Richard worked with Kremer and Testin to write the bill and advocate for its passage. By mid-October of that year, the bill had unanimously passed in the Wisconsin legislature. Richard notes former Gov. Scott Walker had initially expressed hesitation but eventually signed the bill that November.
The WFBF led other state Farm Bureaus across the country in supporting Kentucky congressman James Comer’s work to remove hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). WFBF president Jim Holte wrote a letter to the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Purdue, co-signed by 26 other state Farm Bureau presidents, urging him and President Trump to take action to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.
Those efforts helped demonstrate that hemp had finally gone mainstream, Richard observes. WFBF had secured the Wisconsin delegation’s support, with representatives Glenn Grothman, Ron Kind, Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore and Mike Gallagher, as well as senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, sponsoring the legislation. Holte and Comer penned a column (published in February 2018 by USA Today Network), which Richard credits as signaling the country was ready to move forward on hemp.
WFBF held the state’s first educational hemp seminar at Chippewa Valley Tech in January 2018, which drew more than 250 attendees and was covered by Wisconsin Eye. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) issued approximately 250 grower applications that spring. “No other state had blown the doors off of this thing like Wisconsin did in its inaugural year,” Richard notes. Further educational sessions hosted by WFBF drew standing room-only crowds.
Wisconsin’s hemp program had some hiccups—Richard references how then-Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office in April 2018 almost derailed the hemp program by issuing a statement that essentially declared any cannabidiol (CBD) products outside of Lydia’s Law illegal. Kremer, Testin, Richard and others met with the attorney general’s office and stated why they believed CBD production was legal under the 2014 Farm Bill. The attorney general’s office reversed their decision shortly after. “This pretty much saved the 2018 growing season for a couple hundred hemp farmers,” Richard says.
Wisconsin’s 2018 inaugural hemp growing season was met with wet weather, and Richard says some farmers didn’t properly plant seed at appropriate depths or at the right time. The 2019 season saw a six-fold increase in growing applications filed with DATCP. Richard observes this year’s crop is better, but wet conditions and insects persist. He says there’s still a general lack of hemp agronomics and product and market development.
Richard is optimistic about the future of hemp in Wisconsin but believes there’s still work ahead, whether it be educating policy makers, business leaders, law enforcement and the general public or upgrading infrastructure to process hemp grains and fiber. “Product and market development is in its infancy, but if this country and the younger generations truly believe in sustainability, then I think hemp can play a major role in making that happen,” he concludes.
For more information, visit wfbf.com.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer who enjoys capturing the stories behind Milwaukee’s happening food, beverage and urban farming scenes. She also pens articles about holistic health, green living, sustainability and human-interest features.
Oct. 29, 2019