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Hemp provides diversification options
Posted On: July 07, 2020

By Mary Hookham, for WCO

As hemp production becomes more popular and streamlined in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Custom Operators are exploring the crop as a possibility for custom operators. The 2020 Symposium for the Midwest Forage Association, Wisconsin Custom Operators and Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin offered a panel of hemp producers and experts to discuss current hemp-related laws and growing practices.

Zach Bemis, attorney with Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. of Madison, explained how farmers could diversify with hemp to boost their bottom line. He warned that despite some movement forward in the industry with the 2014 farm bill, hemp regulations are still being developed.

“Wisconsin has gone a long way to remove a lot of the risk for growers,” Bemis said.
He feels confident growers have enough guidelines and regulations to be successful when producing hemp but said it pays to keep an eye on legislation. The nature of the industry is to draw in other industries where farmers can sell their product and simply look for other hemp-related opportunities, which is another aspect of the industry to watch, he said.

“It’s amazing how many different facets of the Wisconsin economy are getting pulled into this industry,” Bemis said. “There’s enough regulations in place that I think people can make a good go of production and have the certainty they need, but what I think this industry is really craving is more certainty.”

Wisconsin growers cautioned farmers in attendance to beware of the extra work involved in growing hemp. They also advised farmers to secure a buyer for their product prior to planting and have at least two back-up plans. 

Dan Wiese of Ledge Rock Hemp in Greenleaf, Wisconsin got involved in hemp production because of his curiosity, but he says hemp production requires focus and money.
“Size yourself up by the amount of money you won’t need back for awhile,” Wiese said. “Get a set of blinders, wear them and focus.”

Ed Liegel of Driftless Extracts of Lone Rock, Wisconsin experiences the pain-relieving benefits of hemp every day. He consumes the product for diabetes and arthritis relief.

“I would never stop taking this,” he said.

Green Bay hemp producer Peggy Coffeen said although the production of the crop is intense and labor is all completed by hand, she believes there are opportunities for direct marketing in the future. She said producing a quality product is crucial for traceability as well.

“Consumers continue to want to know where their products are coming from,” she said.

Coffeen and her husband own and operate their own product brand called P’ri CBD. They produce and process their own products and market them to help customers with stress, fatigue and pain. Their products are delivered with a personalized prayer card based on Galatians 5:22 in the Bible.

Growers continue to learn about the benefits of hemp production not only for the consumer demand but also for soil health. Some producers are using it in their crop rotations, said Liegel.

“Hemp removes toxic chemicals from the soil and naturally fights mold,” he said. “It’s revitalizing, recyclable and sustainable.”

Wiese warns that consumers need to watch out for themselves during random drug tests. Being aware of how often people consume CBD products can help them pass drug tests, he said.

“It’s buyer beware,” he said. “The Food and Drug Administration has set guidelines but the products have always been marketed as dietary supplements.”

Bemis warned that money loss when growing hemp is a major risk but said interest in growing it in Wisconsin last season was impressive with 1,200 growers licensed. Only about 800 to 900 growers actually planted hemp, he said.

“A gap remains between issues with the Food and Drug Administration and where the public interest lies on this issue,” he said.
Wisconsin Custom Operators President Bryce O’Leary from Janesville, Wisconsin enjoyed the panel presentation and discussion on hemp production. He has never considered getting into hemp production and can clearly see growing it requires being very careful, working hard and securing buyers before the plants are in the ground, he said.

“You have to be careful what you’re getting so you can get a product you can sell,” he said.


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