CHIPPEWA FALLS — Industrial hemp will be grown in Chippewa Falls this year as part of a statewide project with the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the Division of Extension.
Jerry Clark, Chippewa County UW-Extension agriculture agent, said he’s excited to take part in the project, where three to five varieties of industrial hemp will be grown on a parcel on county-owned farmland in the northeast corner of the city. It will probably be 1 or 2 acres total.
“Any time you can be part of a new crop, we’re going to try it,” Clark said. “We’re excited to see how this crop grows.”
The Chippewa County site is among four trial field sites across the state. Another trial site is on a private field in Buffalo County.
“Much of the research will be done at the Arlington research station, which is about 15 miles north of Madison,” he said.
Clark said he anticipates the hemp will be planted in late May.
“It’s an annual crop, so it should be ready for harvest in late August or September,” Clark said. “We’ll be doing some basic agronomy measurements. We’ll take data on yield and on some of the treatments, and if there are any diseases.”
Last year, the Legislature approved a measure that made it legal to grow industrial hemp, and about 200 Wisconsin farmers tried growing it. While it was legal to grow it, Clark isn’t aware of any local farmer who attempted it.
“We used to grow it here,” Clark said. “We’re optimistic we should be able to grow it without much trouble.”
Among the work the researchers will do is to determine the best soil and conditions for the plant.
“It doesn’t like to sit in water,” Clark said. “It likes lighter, sandier soils, but it should grow in heavier soils.”
Rodrigo Werle, a UW-Madison assistant professor and agriculture extension specialist, said there are three potential markets for industrial hemp: oil, grains and fiber.
“It’s really exciting times,” Werle said. “There is a lot of interest in this potential miracle crop. Everything is happening really quickly.”
Werle said the studies done on the four test fields will evaluate if hemp can become a regular rotation crop on farms across the state.
“There hasn’t been any research in Wisconsin since the 1960s,” Werle said. “So, it’s really exciting, but we’re telling people to be patient. This research is expensive.”
The state law requires that any industrial hemp must remain below 0.3 percent of THC level, and Werle said that is one of the challenges, making sure whatever is grown doesn’t contain too much THC potency.
Clark stressed that a 0.3 percent THC level is far below what is seen in marijuana.
“These varieties, while in the same species, it is a different family than marijuana,” Clark said.
Clark said there isn’t a market for the grain at this time, and in all likelihood, the plant will be tilled under at the end of the summer.
Buffalo County Agriculture Agent Carl Duley said the test field there also will be just 1 to 2 acres. While the field in Chippewa Falls will focus on hemp varieties that should create quality oil byproducts, the hemp planted in Buffalo County will be targeted for quality fibers and grains, Duley said. Duley said he’s excited to be part of the new project, but he’s frustrated right now as they have run into problems obtaining the seeds.
Wisconsin was once a leading producer of industrial hemp, primarily for rope production, until it was prohibited in 1938, a news release states. The Legislature reclassified industrial hemp from a narcotic to a commodity crop in December, making it legal to grow at both the state and federal levels.