Nearly 2,100 individuals and businesses have applied to grow or process industrial hemp in 2019, according to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, with more applications expected in the next week or so.
“This is a dramatic increase from last year,” said Brian Kuhn, director of the department’s Plant Industry Bureau, which oversees the hemp program. “We attribute much of the increase to removal of industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act as part of the 2018 farm bill late last year. That removed much of the legal uncertainty that may have held participation back somewhat last year.”
Online and emailed applications and renewals from last year were due by midnight on March 1. However, forms sent through the mail will be accepted as long as they are postmarked by March 1.
To date, 1,405 have applied to grow industrial hemp this year. Of those, 1,244 would be first-time growers. Processor applications are at 692, with 636 first-time applicants. That compares with 247 grower licenses and 100 processor licenses issued for 2018.
“We’re asking applicants to please be patient, and to avoid calling to check on the progress of their applications,” Kuhn said. The bureau is adding staff for the program, but he explained it could take as much as six to eight weeks to process applications. “Unless you have a felony drug conviction in your background check,” Kuhn said, “you will receive your license in time to grow or process this year. If there is some other issue – such as missing information on your application or lack of payment – we will contact you. There is no need to check.”
The industrial hemp program grew out of legislation passed in late 2017 that allowed growing and processing industrial hemp in Wisconsin. The 2014 federal farm bill had authorized states to create pilot research programs that were administered by universities or state agriculture departments. However, industrial hemp remained on the federal list of controlled substances because it is the same species as marijuana, even though industrial hemp is bred to have very low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Industrial hemp was a major crop in Wisconsin in the first half of the 20th century, mainly harvested for its fiber to make rope. Most growers today are growing it either for CBD oil or grain.
Growing or processing hemp in Wisconsin requires a one-time license and an annual registration with the department in years when licensees intend to grow or process. Last year, some licensees did not register once they had their licenses, and others opted not to grow after registering because of bad weather and other factors. Production results for 2018 are not yet available.