Interest in industrial hemp in Wisconsin continues to grow as the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection recently released application numbers for 2019. Nearly 2,100 individuals and businesses applied to grow or process hemp in Wisconsin’s second year of its industrial hemp program.

As of March 1, 1,405 have applied to grow industrial hemp this year and 692 have applied to serve as processors of industrial hemp. Many of the applicants are submitting paperwork for the first time, with 1,244 first-time growers and 247 first-time processors.

Last year, 247 grower licenses and 100 processor licenses were issued by DATCP in its inaugural year of the hemp program.

“This is a dramatic increase from last year,” said Brian Kuhn, director of the DATCP’s Plant Industry Bureau, which houses the hemp program.

Kuhn said the department attributes much of the increase to the 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,” he said.

Wisconsin’s industrial hemp program grew out of legislation passed in late 2017 that allowed growing and processing of industrial hemp in the state for the first time since the first part of the 20th century.

Under the legislation, growing or processing hemp in Wisconsin now requires a one-time license and 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 ,while others opted not to grow even after registering because of bad weather and other factors. Production results for 2018 are not yet available, but DATCP reported most growers in Wisconsin are interested in CBD oil or grain for their crop.

Kuhn asked applicants to be patient and avoid calling to check on the progress of their applications; DATCP is in the process of adding staff for the program to meet some of the increased demand.

Currently, application processing is expected to take as long as six to eight weeks, but Kuhn assured successful applicants that they’ll have the licensing they need to grow or process this year.

“Unless you have a felony drug conviction in your background check, 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,” he said.