In Wisconsin, Farmers Blame 'Hot' Crops on Delays in State Testing
olyasolodenko/Adobe Stock

In Wisconsin, Farmers Blame 'Hot' Crops on Delays in State Testing

The debate in Wisconsin turns toward the 0.3-percent THC threshold—and whether it should be changed.

October 15, 2019

Wisconsin Public Radio reported on the plight of seven farmers in the South Central Wisconsin Hemp cooperative, each of whom submitted harvest notices to the state around the same time—30 days prior to anticipated harvest—in order to get their crop tested by the state for cannabinoid content. The problem is that the actual test times for each farmer were divergent, and, in some cases, the tests recorded “hot” crops that exceeded the 0.3-percent threshold. 

What’s happening in Wisconsin’s harvest is an example of a broader issue in the emergent U.S. hemp industry.

"The discrepancies of when we were actually sampled are huge," FL Morris, president of the cooperative, told the station. "We had one grower that actually gave her 30-day harvest notification one day before another grower, but she was tested 27 days after that other grower."

When state officials record a “hot” crop, it must be destroyed. Farmers, of course, stand to lose thousands of dollars in investments (of time and money) over a fragile chemical margin.

Now, hemp farmers across Wisconsin are urging the state to reconsider its rules and raise the THC content threshold to 1 percent. Clearly, it’s not just the South Central Wisconsin Hemp cooperative; the problem has statewide reach.

RELATED: International Hemp Industry Hopes to Change U.S.’s 0.3-Percent THC Limit

In a manner of speaking, the testing issues in Wisconsin are of the same ilk as testing issues faced by hemp farmers across the U.S.

But the move to a 1-percent THC hemp definition may not have legs; that legal amendment would violate the provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp in the first place. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to fine-tune its hemp regulations, the 0.3-percent THC limit is very unlikely to change. Doing so at the state level would put Wisconsin in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection website describes the process: “If the analysis shows THC levels above 0.3 percent, it is a failed test. Growers can request a resampling, at their expense. Only one resample per field or variety is permitted. If the retest fails, the grower will have 10 days to destroy the entire field where the sample was collected. DATCP will inspect the field after 10 days. If the crop has not been destroyed, DATCP may destroy it and invoice the grower for the cost.”

There is no room for interpretation beyond that paragraph.

"There absolutely is significant risk here that you could do everything right and still end up with a hot crop at the end of the season. We experienced that in our first year. We knew that we would experience it again this year," DATCP Plant Industry Bureau Director Brian Kuhn told WPR. "We had about a 10-percent hot crop rate in our first season [in 2018], and these numbers aren't dramatically different than what other states are seeing."

Elsewhere, in Isthmus, a regional alt-weekly in Wisconsin, Lisa and Josh (who did not provide the magazine with their last names) reported losing $40,000 on a crop of 70 hemp plants that tested at 0.5-percent THC content. 

“This isn’t just affecting us — it’s a drain on the entire Wisconsin economy. We are a very small operation. The cost statewide must be in the millions,” Lisa told the magazine. “We’re not looking to get people high. If we wanted to grow marijuana, we would be farming in a different state. We want to be hemp farmers and produce a quality CBD product to improve people’s health.”

This year, Wisconsin saw an almost tenfold increase in the number of licensed hemp farmers working in the state. In 2018, the state licensed 135 farmers; in 2019, 1,247. The DATCP reports that “10 to 12” percent of hemp field tests have come back hot so far this year.

What the final ratio will be for the 2019 growing season is still unclear, but the trend is not good.

Morris told Wisconsin Public Radio that time of the essence here. Crops are lost. Investments are lost.

“You think of all the attention and news that farmer suicide is getting. All I can think of is, yeah, I’m advocating for my people’s pocketbooks right now, but I also feel like … I’m trying to prevent a suicide here,” she said. “Because imagine having 40 acres, imagine having half a million dollars of your family’s savings invested in a crop that’s supposed to save your family farm. But because of a completely arbitrary hundredth of a percent, you can have to destroy your crop.”

What testing and regulatory issues are you facing this fall on your farm? Share your harvest stories and lessons learned with us: email and tell us more about your farm and the 2019 season—and what you’re doing to prepare for 2020.