Wisconsin's agricultural hemp program is one step closer to becoming permanent.
A bill co-authored by Stevens Point Republican Patrick Testin and Milwaukee Democrat Lena Taylor that removes the pilot program distinction from hemp passed the Senate on Tuesday.
Testin says the growth of the program in its two-year test run shows the crop has the potential to be something special in the state. "In year one we had 250 growers, now we have over 1,500. It's a huge surge, there hasn't been an expansion of any hemp program like that in the entire country."
He says that shows interest in the product is there from both producers and consumers, saying it could become something like potatoes or cranberries for the state. It could also help other producers like dairy farmers diversify their portfolios. "Our Wisconsin farmers are some of the most resilient in the entire world. When push comes to shove, they are going to find ways to remain viable. I hope this can be used as a tool to ensure that small operations don't become a thing of the past that we read about in history books."
Testin adds that he knows of one organic dairy farmer in western Portage County that's started an indoor hemp growing operation for just that reason. "From what he told me, they are very excited and optimistic about that [diversification]." Had the bill not passed the state's hemp program would have been taken over by the Federal Government, something Testin says he didn't want to see happen. "We thought it was extremely important that we keep this program in house here in the state of Wisconsin [so we can] build upon things we learned from the program in year one and work with stakeholders and the Department of Agriculture on what we can do to make this program stronger, more efficient, more effective, and more responsive to those that are in it.
"No disrespect to the Federal Government, but I'd rather have us administer it here at the state level as opposed to DC," he added.
The bill does need approval from the Assembly before going to Governor Evers' desk. R
epublican Representative Tony Kurtz of Wonewoc and Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) also sponsored the bill Testin also notes that Wisconsin has a history of leading the nation when it comes to hemp production. During the early 1900s, more hemp came out of Wisconsin than any other state. Much of it was used for rope, some also went to produce clothing for soldiers fighting overseas.
According to Testin, the state's last legal hemp harvest was in 1957.