The 6th Annual Hemp History Week will be celebrated June 1-7, 2015. Hemp History Week 2015 comes on the heels of the recent introduction of bipartisan hemp cultivation legislation in Wisconsin, AB 215.
Wisconsin lawmakers have sponsored hemp related bills over the years but today, because of recent changes in federal law, passage of hemp legislation like AB215 could begin to restore the Wisconsin hemp industry.
Farmers first grew hemp in Wisconsin even before it was admitted as a state in 1848. An article in the May 10, 1873 Janesville Gazette states, “Of ail crops, it is conceded hemp pays best.” In the early 1900’s. Hemp was even grown by inmates at the state prison in Waupun and on the grounds of what is today the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.
Wisconsin hemp was used for rope in the first World War, but the crop had less success in the years after, with the 1937 federal Marijuana Tax Act dealing another blow. But when World War II broke out, eliminating hemp sources in the Dutch East Indies, Philippines, and other locations, farmers from Wisconsin and other states with a hemp growing past were tasked with growing thousands acres of hemp, bringing millions of dollars to Wisconsin farmers and processors.
Madison’s Capital Times published an article in Feb. 1941 titled “State’s $3,000,000 Hemp Crop Serves Defense Need.” The article noted, “Wisconsin produces over 75 per cent of the hemp raised commercially in the United States. It is grown most extensively in a midstate area embracing Green Lake, Dodge, Columbia and Fond du Lac counties. There are hemp fiber mills at Beaver Dam, Juneau and Brandon. During the latter part of the World war, 13 such mills were operating throughout central Wisconsin, but only three survived the lean-post-war period.”
Wisconsin is referenced several times in the 1942 movie “Hemp for Victory,” produced by the federal government to urge farmers to help the war effort by growing hemp for rope to supply the needs of the U.S. Navy.
In November, 1942, the Rhinelander Daily News carried an item in their “War Farm News” column: “Hemp – Wisconsin farmers, who this year produced 8,000 acres of hemp, will be called upon to grow 40,000 of the 200,000 hemp acres required to meet the nation’s needs of 300 to 400 million pounds of hemp fiber for next year. Although Winnebago, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, Columbia, Dodge, Washington, Iowa, Grant, Lafayette, Dane, Rock, Walworth, Racine and Kenosha counties have been selected to do this, job, some interest is being shown in Oneida county. The price will vary from. $39 to $50 per ton.”
To put things in perspective, forty-thousand acres is about 63 square miles of cannabis hemp plants. By comparison, Milwaukee, the state’s largest city is about 95 square miles and Madison around 78.
The extent of federal investment in hemp and hemp industry infrastructure was reported in a Sunday, December 31, 1944 Wisconsin State Journal article, “Loss of Foreign Rope Supply Partly Met by State Industry.”
According to the article, “Forty-two plants have been built in the nation by the government for the processing of hemp, and six of these plants are located in Wisconsin.”
One of those hemp mills was located along Highway 51 north of Madison in DeForest. The article included this description of the facilities, noting: “the storage yard of the 50-acre site of the plant may be stacked as much as the 12,000 tons of hemp produced in 1943 by 458 farmers in the vicinity on some 3,700 acres of land.”
A followup article in the Feb. 11, 1946 Wisconsin State Journal “Deforest Firm Formed in Hemp,” discussed how a new corporation, the Tri-County Fiber Corp.. had been formed and had leased the DeForest hemp mill for the processing of the 1945 hemp crop of the DeForest vicinity. Processing of the 1945 crop grown by local farmers under contract to the new corporation, was to begin after an inventory and after the plant had been turned back to the Reconstruction Finance Corp. (RFC) by War Hemp Industries, Inc., which had been operating hemp processing plants for the federal government. The State Journal also reported that “65 men and women will be employed in the processing of the 1945 hemp crop”. The plant later closed and was acquired by the Ball Corporation. The end of defense contracts, federal regulations and other factors eventually resulted in the complete demise of the Wisconsin hemp industry, with the end coming in 1958 after the 1957 crop was processed.
Wisconsin is ripe for a restoration of the hemp industry today with many more known uses now developed for the hemp plant. A return to hemp cultivation could unlock a whole new era of prosperity for Wisconsin’s once booming hemp industry. That future starts when AB 215 receives a public hearing. It will be up to the chair of the Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations, Rep Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) to decide if AB215 will receive a public hearing this session. With the session still young, hopefully that will happen.