Growing Pains: Farmers starting to grow hemp struggle to find buyers

Eau Claire (WQOW) – Corn, soybeans, and hay have been the biggest cash crops in Wisconsin for many years, but many farmers are hoping to add hemp to that list.

Last December, Wisconsin passed a law allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp. This year 180 farmers obtained licenses and decided to plant. That includes Butch and David Mondeau, the farmers behind Hemp Guy Eau Claire

"It was a gamble… just thought, what the heck? Why not go for it? It’s something different, it’s new in Wisconsin," Butch Mondeau told News 18. 

Getting a license includes paying license fees, passing a criminal background check, and a per-acre planting fee. Mondeau said overall, the process was pretty easy. "She pretty much said we had the license, you just had to finalize it and I think within 2 days we had it in the mail", said Mondeau.

The Mondeaus do have a plan for their harvest come October, but they may have to pluck the plants the old fashioned way; by hand, with the help of their friends and family. 

What’s still up in the air is figuring out how they’ll sell it. In Eau Claire County there are five licensed growers, but only three licensed processors.

Mondeau expressed how hard it was to find a buyer. "We’re out on Facebook, Twitter, we’re waiting for calls, and we’re just planning to see what happens." 

State Department of Agriculture told News 18 they did stress the importance of finding a buyer before planting. They also warned there are still some laws that haven’t been worked out yet. For instance, they haven’t determined whether farmers could sell their crop across state lines. 

"I know there is a gentleman in Minnesota, and that’s not a problem. We can take it across the Minnesota line," Mondeau said. 

If they can’t find a buyer, the growers are allowed to store their hemp at the end of the season in hopes of finding a buyer next year.  The hemp can be stored for up to a year at room temperature. The problem then would become, where will they store it?

 The other option is to burn the crop. Whatever they end up doing, it must be reported to the state by December.  

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