WONEWOC — A state representative’s farm in Wonewoc is one of Wisconsin’s newest hemp farms.
Wisconsin 50th Assembly District Rep. Tony Kurtz is took the leap into the hemp market, planting his first crop of hemp during Wisconsin’s Hemp Heritage Week.
Kurtz, an organic farmer, and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski met at Kurtz’s Wonewoc farm June 4 to discuss the Growing Opportunities Act and hemp's future in Wisconsin.
The Growing Opportunities Act, which Kurtz co-sponsored, changes the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection hemp pilot program into a permanent program, and allows the DATCP to set planting, processing, and testing procedures for hemp, among other changes. The Growing Opportunities Act comes on the heels of the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress, which removed hemp from the Schedule 1 controlled substance list and made the crop an ordinary agricultural commodity.
“In our view this is another great economic opportunity, because of the Farm Bill, for Wisconsin to leverage our roots and heritage in hemp to bring that back at this time,” Godlewski said. “That’s why we’re proclaiming Hemp Heritage Week this week, recognizing our history with hemp, (as Wisconsin) was the leading producing state back in the 19th century.”
Godlewski said she is working with financial institutions to ensure farmers who transition to hemp have access to farm and business loans.
“When I was elected, we had a handful of people call us that said, ‘Our lender, our merchant services is literally giving us 24 hours to find a new bank,’" Godlewski said. “As a business owner that’s devastating. If there is any way we can be helpful working with the financial institution on providing clarity then let’s do it, because this is a huge opportunity and we can’t just have them cutting people off.”
Godlewski said she is talking to the financial institutions and making sure they are educated about hemp and the products removal from the Schedule 1 controlled substance list.
“I think more and more financial institutions will come on board as we grow,” Godlewski said. “We don’t want banking services or access to capital as an inhibitor for why people can’t get involved.”
For Kurtz, who applied for and was granted a license to grow hemp, the crop has exciting potential.
“Fiber is the market I’m most excited about,” Kurtz said. ” It’s an infant market, but those stalks they’ll grind and make a pulp out of it… (which) has multiple applications. They use it for composites; there is a lot of excitement about using it in plastics for hemp plastic, where it could actually be biodegradable. If you figure out a biodegradable plastic that’d be a big deal.”
Kurtz is planting 33 acres of hemp on his 210-acre farm, and plans to use the crop to diversify his farm income.
“For me it’s good for the organic rotation, because I normally do a lot of soy beans, and they don’t do well with an organic system with weeds,” Kurtz said. “So my goal is to take soy beans out of the rotation and put hemp in the rotation.”
While Kurtz is excited about the fiber part of the hemp market, he worries the CBD portion of the market might reach a ceiling.
“Whereas there is right now a big market for CBD oil, and I don’t want to quash that at all, but I do have a genuine concern that that market, people might be too excited about that, and I don’t want there to be a bubble,” Kurtz said. “Grain has good potential; I don’t think that market is at all tapped.”
Kurtz said the benefits from diversifying crops can help all Wisconsin farmers.
“I think that it is a great opportunity, especially with the struggling farming economy of the last four years,” Kurtz said. “Anything we can do to help our farmers is the right thing to do.”
The 50th Assembly District covers all of Juneau County, parts of Sauk and Richland counties, and small portions of Vernon and Monroe counties.