Wisconsin is shifting hemp oversight to the federal government, a move growers say will help cut down on red tape for the burgeoning industry here. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)
Wisconsin is shifting hemp oversight to the federal government, a move growers say will help cut down on red tape for the burgeoning industry here. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)

The move will streamline the process for Wisconsin’s growing hemp industry, farmers say.

For a number of reasons that include additional resources for research and development, switching Wisconsin’s hemp program from state to federal oversight seems to offer growers of the crop the best chance at success, hemp proponents say.

State Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) officials announced Thursday that the state’s hemp initiative that was started in 2018 will be overseen by the US Department of Agriculture beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

Besides added federal resources, the switch could benefit Wisconsin farmers in a number of ways, said Rob Richard, president of the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance. Hemp growers will face no licensing fees as part of the federal program, Richard said, and a federal hemp license must be renewed every three years instead of annually under DATCP.

Currently, DATCP must monitor changes to federal hemp regulations and communicate them to Wisconsin growers, adding an additional layer of potential confusion. Richard said moving to the federal program will streamline rules regarding hemp growing and processing. 

“It simplifies things,” Richard said during a DATCP meeting Thursday to discuss the switch. “It will allow our growers to follow one set of rules.”

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The change to federal oversight also is a move toward hemp being treated more in line with other agricultural crops, he said, noting the state doesn’t have a special program for other crops such as corn.

“We just want to be treated like any other crop,” Richard said. “With the move to the federal level, we are starting to get there.”

The move comes as the number of help growers and processors in Wisconsin this year dropped significantly, down about 40% from 2020. Officials attributed the decrease in hemp growers at least in part to continued regulatory changes and uncertainty about market demand.  

After decades of hemp-growing prohibition in Wisconsin, farmers were allowed to grow it after the state Legislature approved a pilot program in 2018. The number of licensed hemp growers and processors grew significantly the following year and was steady in 2020 before this year’s decrease.

DATCP has been committed to working with the hemp industry and assisting growers and processors, the department’s Secretary-designee Randy Romanski said. However, hemp producers should face fewer obstacles as part of the federal program, he said. 

“There seems to be an understanding that this step provides hemp growers with the best opportunity in Wisconsin,” Romanski said. 

DATCP will post hemp program updates at https://hemp.wi.gov as more details about the transition become available.