The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is now accepting applications for industrial hemp licenses, as the crop enters its first legal growing season here in decades.

Farmers interested in growing hemp must register and obtain state licenses. A one-time licensing fee for growers will cost between $150 and $1,000, depending on how much acreage they plant, department spokeswoman Donna Gilson said.

Growers must also pay a $350 annual registration fee. Processors have a registration cost of $100 but do not have a licensing fee, she said.

Established crops such as corn and soybeans don’t have nearly as many rules and regulations as hemp does. That’s because hemp’s similarities to marijuana create different legal hurdles, she said.

“There’s nothing like this for other crops,” Gilson said. “It’s because of the odd legal limbo that industrial hemp lives in because the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) does not recognize hemp from being a different plant from marijuana.”

Hemp contains THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Going forward, state field workers will collect hemp samples from each farm and test them to make sure none contain more than 0.3 percent of THC, Gilson said.

Applicants must also pass a background check to verify they have no prior drug convictions.

There is no quota for the number of licenses to be awarded and no limit on hemp acreage. The state Legislature wanted the new crop to be as open as possible when it legalized hemp late last year, Gilson said.

She has seen a “tremendous” amount of interest from Wisconsin farmers. One man who lives in Alaska and has land here contacted her for more information, she said.

Wisconsin recently developed a research pilot program to better understand hemp fertilizers and pest control. Hemp hasn’t been legal here for roughly 70 years, so the state needed to regain its knowledge, Gilson said.

She estimated about 650 farmers contacted her as the program was in development and asked to be notified of hemp updates.

The application deadline is May 1. Gilson stressed that while hemp could be a great rotational crop and income supplement, farmers need to have buyers in place.

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from taking an entrepreneurial stance here. Before you jump into this to any great degree, do your research,” Gilson said. “Know especially what you’re going to do with that crop at the end of the season.

“You can’t just take it to the elevator like you do with corn and soybeans. You need to have a buyer lined up for your hemp.”

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