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Serving: WI

Hemp: Growing an old crop with new tricks

Alice in Dairyland: Check out this slideshow to learn how the crop is being successfully grown in Wisconsin.

By Kaitlyn Riley

Throughout my year as Alice in Dairyland, I have promoted the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture as the industry’s greatest strength. America’s Dairyland is filled with cattle, mink, corn, cranberries and more. Now, for the first time since the 1950s, we’ve added industrial hemp to the list.

I was still working as a news reporter in Eau Claire when the story of bringing back hemp hit the wires. We used black-and-white footage of the crop because that was the only visual we had for our television viewers. After making a visit to Monroe in 2019, I now have a clearer vision of industrial hemp.

Mark Hubbard of GroHub Farm in Monroe met with me to explain his business. He recently moved to Wisconsin from the state of Washington, but Hubbard had ties to Wisconsin through his father’s dairy farm. Hubbard says he saw the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and legislators listening to make good decisions for farmers, which is a big part of why he launched GroHub in Wisconsin. The business has a license to grow and process hemp. Hubbard works with area farmers to process their hemp into cannabidiol (CBD) products such as lotions and tinctures.

Hubbard sees hemp as an opportunity to revitalize Wisconsin agriculture, and he isn’t alone. Nearly 1,700 applicants are seeking licenses to grow hemp in Wisconsin this year, with nearly 700 applications to process the crop, according to DATCP. There were only 250 licensed growers in the state when Wisconsin’s industrial hemp program launched in 2018.

Harvesting equipment

When asked how they harvest, Hubbard says there is equipment available such as tobacco harvesters and hops baling equipment. In fact, they hang hemp to dry like hops and tobacco plants.

The industry is still finding its path in genetics and stability. Being a farm girl, I understand there are always risks involved in agriculture, but I had no idea what challenges stem from growing hemp.

To maximize the value of hemp grown for CBD, the crop cannot pollinate. Growers want to harvest the buds and flowers on female plants, but if they are pollinated, those flowers will turn into seeds. The solution is to use only female plants, but how can you tell a male seed from a female seed? Hubbard says they can have nearly 1,200 plants per acre, but it only takes a couple of males to pollinate and damage a crop.

Their solution amazed me: clones. By cloning successful female hemp plants, growers can guarantee consistency and gender. Clones can also help ensure tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels are at the required 0.3% or lower. Imagine the agricultural opportunities that can grow from this new crop for farmers, processors, researchers and more.

Wisconsin may be reviving an old crop, but our state will continue to diversify agriculture through persistence and innovation to keep the industry moving forward. Click through the slideshow to see photos of hemp production. 

Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland.

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