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Hemp: Wisconsin Once Was a National Leader

Bringing back hemp as a fully lawful and viable crop for Wisconsin farmers is one of the projects supported by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. (MFAI)
Bringing back hemp as a fully lawful and viable crop for Wisconsin farmers is one of the projects supported by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. (MFAI)
June 6, 2016

EAST TROY, Wis. - Many years ago, Wisconsin was a national leader in the production of industrial hemp, but since the 1950s hemp has been banned by the federal government.

There is a national movement to bring hemp back and this week is Hemp History Week.

Allison Pratt-Szeliga, crop and soil research manager for Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, says industrial hemp is a non-psychoactive plant still grown in 30 other nations, but in the 1950s, the government made industrial hemp a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, even though the plant has no psychoactive effects.

"Right now we're not growing it here because there's been some confusion on the U.S. government's part that has misclassified industrial hemp," she says. "Basically, we need to eliminate that confusion and start recognizing it as an agricultural commodity."

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is offering a free showing of an award-winning documentary called Bringing It Home on Thursday night, June 9, at 6:30 p.m. at their facility in East Troy.

The film shows how industrial hemp can be a profitable and sustainable crop now and in the future.

For more information contact Michael Fields Agricultural Institute at 262-642-3303, or online at michaelfields.org.

U.S. consumers purchase more than $620 million worth of hemp products annually, all of it imported.

Pratt-Szeliga says industrial hemp has many uses.

"Everything from insulation to clothing to bio-plastics; environmentally-friendly fiberglass," she says. "Some folks say that there's over 25,000 different products that can be made, but I've seen that number being closer to 50,000 as well."

The new Farm Bill has a provision for hemp research and pilot programs that allows farmers to explore growing the crop again.

Nearly all the hemp grown for food products comes from Canada, and the market is growing, so producers are finding it hard to supply enough.

Pratt-Szeliga says industrial hemp is a perfect match for Wisconsin farmers.

"Wisconsin used to be one of the top producers of industrial hemp," says Pratt-Szeliga. "It's something that could fit back into our rotation; it fits with the soil; and so it would fit nicely in with farmers' rotations."

Pratt-Szeliga says the documentary will provide answers to the question, "Why aren't we growing it here?"

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI