The Madison Region agriculture sector plows ahead with innovation.
No one would be surprised to learn the cheese and dairy products in the refrigerator came from Wisconsin. But the meat and potatoes, preserves, sauces, baked goods and even the craft beer in the kitchen may have been produced in Wisconsin, as well.
Now, many of the state’s farmers want to add another crop to the list of products the state is known for – industrial hemp.
Undaunted by the potential for weather-related crop failure, strict regulatory requirements and the risk of inadvertently growing plants with THC levels so high they are classified as marijuana and must be destroyed, optimistic farmers are signing up for licenses to grow hemp. As more farmers enter the business, the value of the crop has grown.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection issued more than 1,300 licenses to grow industrial hemp in 2019, a significant increase from 2018 when about 250 farmers applied.
“My colleagues and I recently estimated the total revenue earned by Wisconsin hemp growers. Our estimate was $26.4 million for 2018 and $491.8 million for 2019,â€ says Shaheer Burney, assistant professor of agribusiness in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.
The value of hemp increases as it is harvested and turned into products used in textiles, fiberglass, plastics and even batteries. Most people, though, are more familiar with hemp-based food and beverage products and, especially, CBD oil.
For now, those products are imported from other states, but that could change. The University of Wisconsin is helping farmers learn how to successfully turn hemp into a cash crop. The Wisconsin Hemp Farmers & Manufacturers Association is helping growers connect with producers of hemp products.
“Our goal, as always, is to provide accurate advice on the best agricultural practices for Wisconsin growers,â€ says Rodrigo Werle, a UW-Madison assistant professor of agronomy and extension specialist.
Wisconsin was a leading producer of industrial hemp, primarily for rope, until production was prohibited by federal law in 1938. Farmers today are growing industrial hemp for fiber, seed and CBD oil marketed as a supplement for health applications.
As it grows, the hemp industry will join a robust agriculture, food and beverage sector in the Madison Region that employs more than 60,000 people and accounts for more than 20% of the state’s agriculture sector output, according to the Madison Region Economic Partnership.
Globally known food companies have operations in the region, including McCain, Hormel, Del Monte, Kerry and Colony Brands.
While the region’s agricultural heritage has given it a legacy in food production, it is focused on the future. Powerhouse research assets, such as the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) at UW-Madison, and technology innovation are creating new products and new markets.
At the new Beverage Innovation Center at the CDR, for example, businesses and entrepreneurs will find unique resources for development of new dairy beverages. They will have access to the expertise of more than 30 researchers and scientists. The center was created with the assistance of a $750,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and a $250,000 grant from the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
“The center’s proven innovation and execution excellence are unparalleled, and this partnership between the WEDC, the University of Wisconsin and the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin will be vital to industry growth in our state,â€ says Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
The Beverage Innovation Center has the unique ability to prepare small batches to test many new potential dairy-based beverages, says John Lucey, director of the CDR.
“Our goal is to make anything that people can think of,â€ he says. “The sky is the limit for us.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Region, check out the latest edition of the Madison Region Economic Development magazine.