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Extension hemp tests could ease learning curve

CHIPPEWA FALLS — The first year of Wisconsin’s industrial hemp pilot program proved a challenge to farmers. This year, more than six times the number of farmers who participated in the inaugural season are hoping to give the crop a try.

In an effort to take some pressure off future hemp growers, the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and UW-Extension are participating in a statewide project hoping to uncover best growing practices for the crop.

Wisconsin’s industrial hemp program launched in the 2018 growing season with about 250 licensed growers, although many of those did not actually plant a crop. License applications rose dramatically for the 2019 season, largely in response to the new farm bill’s removal of hemp from the controlled substances list. More than 2,000 farmers and businesses have applied to grow or process industrial hemp in 2019, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“There’s lots of interest,” UW-Extension Buffalo County Agriculture Educator Carl Duley said. “But I’m not sure how many people will get seed in the ground.”

Nearly 1,500 farmers applied for licenses to grow hemp in the state this year, up from 260 in 2018. There were also 716 applications for a processing license, up from 107 a year ago.

A difficult growing season, limited seed options and unclear regulations presented obstacles for farmers who jumped at the chance to grow industrial hemp in Wisconsin in 2018.

With test plots going in around the state this year, things could get easier in the future.

Test plots this year in Buffalo and Chippewa counties will include fertilizer trials on different varieties of hemp. They are also doing small plot variety trials and CBD oil variety trials on the Chippewa County plot and larger strip plots in Buffalo County.

The Chippewa County tests will mirror tests being done at UW-Madison’s Agricultural Research Station north of Madison but on Chippewa County’s sandier soils, Duley said.

The UW-Extension testing will include four varieties of the industrial hemp plant: CBD varieties, grain varieties, fiber varieties and multipurpose varieties that produce both grain and fiber.

“We’ll monitor how aggressive (the hemp varieties) are, because weed control is a big issue; we’ll monitor disease and insect issues; and at harvest, we’ll evaluate for yield,” Duley said.

Duley said they will be looking to be able to give farmers specific fertilizer recommendations in the future.

“The standard recommendation is 100 to 140 pounds of (nitrogen), not all that different from corn, actually,” he said. “But we don’t really know if that’s correct, too high, too low.

“It’s similar to what we did with hops. We had recommendations from the Pacific Northwest, but nothing specific for here.”

The project’s field tests will study the effect various agronomic practices can have on the THC levels in the plants. If the THC concentration rises above the legal limit of 0.3 percent dry weight, the crop must be destroyed, which happened to a number of Wisconsin farmers in 2018, Duley said.

“There’s a concern that adding nitrogen fertilizer — even though the crop uses a lot of nitrogen — raises the THC level,” said UW-Madison master’s student Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke, who is using the UW-Extension industrial hemp trials for her master’s thesis on the crop. “We want to make sure that doesn’t happen, because that would lead to confiscation.”

Duley said much of last year’s CBD oil plantings tested high for THC content. A majority of interest among farmers is from producing the CBD varieties of hemp, he said.

“In my understanding, if you delay harvest, THC goes up,” Duley said. “We had all the rain last year, and people weren’t used to the day it’s due to come off, you have to take it off. Whether it’s raining or not, you just have to.”

Wisconsin was once a leading producer of industrial hemp, primarily for rope production, until it was prohibited in 1938.

Duley said he and UW-Extension Chippewa County Agriculture Agent Jerry Clark decided to do the larger CBD variety trial in Chippewa County to cut down on the likelihood of cross-pollination issues that could affect the THC content of the plants.

“(In Buffalo County,) we have ditchweed everywhere, because we had huge bases in World War I and World War II when industrial hemp was everywhere,” Duley said. “Winona, Minnesota, had the largest hemp processing plant in the country, and it’s right across the river from us.”

For the grain varieties of the industrial hemp test plants, Duley said he would also like to see the plants tested for oil content.

“They’re fairly high, like 35 percent, oil,” Duley said. “It can be used like olive oil for cooking. And it’s really pretty good just as a dipping sauce.”

The state’s industrial hemp program grew out of legislation passed in late 2017 that allowed growing and processing industrial hemp in Wisconsin. The 2014 federal farm bill had authorized states to create pilot research programs that were administered by universities or state agriculture departments.

Prior to the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp was on the federal list of controlled substances because it is the same species as marijuana. Industrial hemp is bred to have very low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Duley tried a fertilizer trial last year in Buffalo County, but a stretch of 10 chilly, wet days after planting allowed weeds to take over and cost him half the plot.

“That’s the learning process,” Duley said.

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Artists celebrate 50 years of Spring Green fair

SPRING GREEN — Two-hundred artists from across the country will flock to the River Valley area the last full weekend in June for the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair, a tradition in which some have participated for 50 years.

The fair started in 1969 as a way to support arts in the River Valley area. As history tells it, two local women were playing a bridge game one winter when they had a thought to organize an art fair to promote Spring Green in a nice, clean, family way. The women approached the Spring Green Chamber of Commerce, who supported the event with $300 in seed money.

With the help of arts groups, including the Baraboo Art Association, the very first art fair was held July 17-18, 1969, with about 125 artists gathered on the lawn of a house on the corner of Jefferson and Worcester streets. It rained both days, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who organized it; despite the rain, the first fair was deemed a success.

The second art fair was held again on July 17-18, 1970, although the event had moved to the village park. After that second year, the fair was moved downtown to Jefferson Street, where it has been held ever since. The committee continues to work to make the annual art fair a success, encouraging new and old residents of the area to share their ideas and get involved in the community.

In 1975, the date of the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair was moved to the last weekend in June so it did not compete with the City of Madison’s art fair, which was scheduled for the same July weekend.

Another change came in 1991 when the fair became juried, with artists submitting images of their work through an application process, which are then reviewed by the committee who accepts a number of artists in each of the following categories: glass, wood, painting, fiber, graphics, pottery, sculpture, jewelry, photography and fine arts/other.

Linda Reese, a fine arts and jewelry artist, has been participating in the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair since 1990. Reese and her husband split their time between their residences in Minnesota and Arizona, hitting 40 shows each year, many in the Fountain Heights, Ariz., area during the winter months and then more in the Midwest during the summer months.

“The Spring Green fair is one of my favorite ones,” Reese said. “It’s a great show that draws a big crowd and we have a big following there.”

She first heard of the fair through artist friends from New York who had participated in the 1980s; they encouraged Reese to apply to exhibit and her jewelry and hand-painted clothing items were accepted into the fair.

“It’s been a phenomenal show for years and we enjoy seeing everyone and visiting with our customers,” Reese said.

Nick Ringelstetter has been participating in the art fair since 2008, but even before he participated as an artist, he remembered his parents taking him to the show every year as a youth.

“If it wasn’t for the Spring Green Arts Fair, I probably wouldn’t have pursued art,” he said. “It all started because of this show.”

Ringelstetter always thought his art was weird, which incorporated skateboarding, music, pop art references and graphic design. He left the Spring Green area where he grew up for a while to pursue graphic design, but he returned with the idea that he wanted to make art for himself instead of making it for everyone else.

He decided to give the art show a try, submitting images of five pieces and was accepted. Ringelstetter explained how he created 16 original pieces to sell in his booth and was pumped to get out there and share his art with visitors to the show.

“It was my goal to sell one piece. My parents were even going to pay people to buy pieces from me,” he teased. “I ended up selling 13 of the 16 pieces that first day, and I stayed up late that night creating more to refill the booth.

“That was when I started to think, ‘I’ve got something here.’”

Ringelstetter is now a full-time artist, traveling around the world and sharing his “pop-psychedelic” art, if you could call it that.

“It’s definitely it’s own genre,” he said.

He participates in 20 to 40 art shows each year, and like Reese, said the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair is one of his favorites.

“The food is amazing and people come from all over the country,” he said. “I also get to reunite with people, especially this year as it’s kind of like my homecoming.”

Ringelstetter most recently spent a few months in Florida doing mural work, mentoring others on how to complete art in public spaces. This year, he has also participated in art fairs in Florida, Texas and Illinois, just returning to Wisconsin for the art fair in his hometown.

“I’m hoping this is my best summer yet,” he said.

As Ringelstetter mentioned, food is also a big part of the fair, along with entertainment. There is always some sort of music and/or dancing during the fair, featuring local artists. Local, nonprofit organizations serve a variety of food options, making sure there is something to eat for everyone.

The fair typically draws more than 10,000 people, with proceeds raised from the fair used to promote the arts in the River Valley area. For more information on the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair, visit

Photos by Nate Jackson  

Tapped Maple Syrup’s 2019 lineup of craft-infused syrups were available for sampling June 5 during the company’s release party in Wausau.

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Twenty-four students 'tagged to teach ag' at FFA Convention

MADISON — Last year’s Wisconsin FFA Convention included a special moment for one daughter and her mother as the first “Teach Ag Signing Day Event” was held during the 89th annual convention.

An FFA adviser recalled that as the young woman stood in line, waiting to sign her letter of intent to one of the top agriculture schools in the state, tears streamed down the face of her proud mother. Her daughter had seen dozens of students at her high school sign letters of intent to colleges for their athletic abilities, but had never dreamed of having her own proud moment, signing her own letter of commitment in front of a large, cheering audience.

The mother said it was the best thing that had happened to her daughter, just one of nine students from across the state that had been accepted to study agriculture education at UW-Platteville or UW-River Falls.

At this year’s 90th Wisconsin FFA Convention, 24 students beamed as they sat down with college administrators to sign paperwork committing themselves to study agricultural education, their families, fellow FFA members and advisers cheering from the audience.

“That’s my sister!” a sibling exclaimed as Cassidy Van Buren of Waupun FFA signed her documentation, with her mother looking on from over her shoulder.

Van Buren knew she wanted to be a teacher from a young age, but had envisioned teaching kindergarten and early childhood. But that changed when she joined FFA in seventh grade.

“Once I joined, I knew right away that teaching agriculture was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

She has been accepted into the agriculture education program at UW-River Falls; once she graduates, she hopes to teach others about agriculture, bringing a special focus to the importance of giving back to the community as her own FFA chapter does.

“FFA and agriculture happen with everyone, and you need the whole community,” she said. “It’s important to give back.”

Abbygail Hayes of Columbus FFA also joined the organization in seventh grade. Growing up on an organic dairy farm, her siblings had also been involved.

While in high school, she enjoyed teaching others about agriculture through FFA, often educating her classmates on topics they knew little about.

“I have a passion for that and would like to continue,” Hayes said.

She held multiple roles in her school’s FFA chapter, including vice president and secretary. She is now going on to study agriculture education at UW-Platteville.

“Serving in those roles made me come out of my shell and realize I wanted to teach people rather than be taught,” she said.

Trinity Radcliffe of Mayville FFA is another student who signed documentation last week; she has been accepted into UW-River Falls. She joined FFA when she was a freshman.

“I always liked being on the farm and as I came to know FFA, I realized there was more to agriculture than just the farm.

“It’s important that youth know that,” she said.

Her mother said she was surprised when Radcliffe told her family she wanted to study agriculture education, but surprised in a good way as it came as no surprise that their daughter wanted to inspire others in the next generation.

“We’re very proud and excited for her future,” Radcliffe’s mother said.

Jordyn Steinhoff of Tomah FFA said she attended the National FFA Convention last year and it opened her eyes to the possibility of studying agriculture education.

“The National Convention was eye-opening to me. I knew I wanted to teach and inspire people,” Steinhoff said.

She plans to study at UW-River Falls and has a special interest in animal science.

“A lot of people don’t know where their food comes from,” she said. “Ag is broad, and you don’t have to be a farmer to be in FFA. I think people should know that.”

“Children are our future and without them, agriculture would be done,” added Madelynn Green of Stanley-Boyd FFA. “There wouldn’t be a future without them.”

Adam Straussburg of Pulaski FFA was one of the only men at the signing event, pursuing a degree in agricultural education at UW-River Falls. He was inspired to join FFA because his father was an FFA member and told him it was a great experience.

He knew his sophomore year of high school that he wanted to be an ag teacher.

“I want to teach and encourage kids to come out of their shells and become the leaders of tomorrow,” Straussburg said.

Serving as president the past two years has had a big impact on him as well.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to see underclassmen work on their projects and get them involved in the organization as well,” he said.

Photo by Brooke Bechen  

The hilly landscape of the Berres farm made for some challenges, but the couple now has 21 permanent pastures and a fully functional water system, solar pump and water storage system to allow water for cattle in those pastures.