MADISON, Wis. - Going into its third year, Wisconsin's hemp pilot research program is frustrating some farmers, but state officials say that's because of the industry's enormous growth.
The hemp strain of the cannabis plant can contain no more than 0.3% total THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Since the THC content increases with time, some farmers report watching their crop fall out of compliance as they wait for state regulators to conduct tests.
Sara Walling, administrator of the Division of Agricultural Resource Management at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said they've seen the program increase sixfold, which has led to logistical issues. "Our job is certainly to go out there and test every single variety, at every single growing location, for every single grower within Wisconsin each year," she said, "and so, that analysis and that workload is certainly a tremendous one."
Some 1,247 growers and 556 processors have been licensed and registered. People who already have licenses will have to register again to grow or process in 2020 by visiting the Agriculture Department's website. Walling said interest in hemp has skyrocketed thanks in part to the popularity of Cannabidiol (CBD) varieties of hemp, as well as farmers seeing an opportunity to diversify their crops after ongoing trade wars and volatile commodity prices. "Commodity prices on your more traditional agricultural crops have certainly fluctuated, and declined and whatnot, over the last several years," she said, "and so, some individuals are certainly looking to this as an opportunity to bring something different and diverse into that rotation."
State law requires that growers and processors pass a background check with no state or federal drug convictions. Growers pay a one-time licensing fee of $150 to $1,000, depending on the acreage they intend to plant. The annual registration fee is $350 for growers and $100 for processors.