Wisconsin taking applications to grow industrial hemp

Wisconsin farmers will have a new option for their fields this year. The state is now taking applications for people who want to grow industrial hemp.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said 250 farmers and processors have already asked for information on growing industrial hemp. Starting this summer, fields of green could be popping up across the state for a crop that had been off limits.

"If there's a need for it, bring it back," said John of the town of Raymond.

John has been farming his land since the '70s. While he's hesitant to devote his fields to industrial hemp, he thinks others will give it the green light.

"Because the price of corn was so low last year and the beans were even low so it could be another alternative for some of the farmers to look into," he said.

Jim Naumann of Franklin doesn't have any fields to tend but plans to cash in on the crop in other ways as an entrepreneur.

"This is an economic boom, this is going to put people to work," Naumann said.

Federal drug law still doesn't differentiate between hemp and its cousin marijuana. However, last November, Wisconsin lawmakers lifted the state's ban on the crop, requiring growers and processors to simply pass a background check for state or federal drug convictions.

"I think you're going to see a large number of applications, I also think you're going to see a number of people be a little cautious and rightly so," Naumann said.

Naumann said hemp fiber and oil can be used in a number of products including medicine.

"It was primarily a fabric, rope situation, now we are going to see it in a wide variety of areas," he said. "Look for biodegradable plastics, certainly look for the hemp oil and the CBD isolates."

The big question that remains, will farmers be able to make enough money off the crop to replace guarantees like corn, soy beans and hay.

"There might be a chance for some farmers to survive so there might be a bright future for someone," John said.

Naumann has organized Wisconsin's first hemp expo set for this Friday at the American Serb Hall on W. Oklahoma Ave. in Milwaukee. Naumann says there, farmers will have the opportunity to learn more about the crop and its uses. Farmers have until may to apply to grow in 2018.

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