An industrial hemp crop was being grown on UW-Extension test plots in Chippewa County in 2019.

After four years fostering the state’s burgeoning hemp industry, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is passing the baton to the federal government.

Starting Jan. 1, hemp growers will be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and hemp growers will no longer require a license from DATCP to operate in the state of Wisconsin. DATCP and the USDA are scheduled to host a joint webinar from 1-3 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 15 to update growers on the transition and how to work with the federal agency.

“This transition provides growers with the greatest opportunity to produce hemp in Wisconsin,” said Randy Romanski, secretary-designee for DATCP. “That’s been our goal since day one. This is the next step in that journey.”

DATCP staffers are now actively working to spread the word and inform the public on the transition. Growers are also advised to visit the USDA website and keep themselves appraised of any differences between the state’s hemp program and its nationwide successor.

For example, the USDA uses an online automated licensing system that may be unfamiliar to growers, although they still process hard-copy applications. DATCP is also providing a checklist of USDA guidelines that hemp growers can follow.

The necessary infrastructure — such as sites and equipment for sampling THC levels in hemp products — is already in place to handle the state’s needs. DATCP representatives noted testing times will be the same, but the USDA utilizes a private-sector model, compared to laboratories and testers from the public sector as Wisconsin growers may be more accustomed to.

Kuhn also noted testing fees could be as low as $70 compared to $250 currently charged by DATCP testers.

Another perk? No licensing fees, and licenses with the USDA will be renewed once every three years, not on an annual basis.

Still, the programs are pretty compatible and both agencies are working to make the transition as smooth as possible. Growers will continue to work with DATCP through the conclusion of the current growing season.

“People can start taking a look at what that USDA program looks like,” said Brian Kuhn, director of DATCP’s Plant Industry Bureau. “From a reality standpoint, it should look very similar to what they’ve been operating in."

"Farmers are really well schooled in having connections with USDA for programs an that relationship is well established,” Romanski added.

Wisconsin’s hemp industry has been growing steadily, despite its long winters and higher humidity, as well as societal setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, more than 14,000 acres were licensed for hemp cultivation across the state, which only marks a small decrease compared to 16,000 in 2019.

This year marked the fourth year of the state’s pilot program under the 2014 farm bill. The state also features a strong history with the plant, at one time Wisconsin was the nation’s leading producer in hemp acreage and fiber production in the 1940s.

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