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Conference Agenda Reflects Debate Over Hemp

Posted on July 6, 2000

By Star Tribune

Oshkosh, Wisconsin — Growing hemp could mean new prosperity for dairy farmers who dumped milk in a Fourth of July protest against low market prices that no longer cover the cost of their traditional operations, a county official says.

Because of its biological relationship with marijuana, however, law enforcement agencies oppose legalization of the crop, an issue that is to be discussed in August during a conference sponsored by rural economic development groups.

“It’s a controversial subject,” says Nancy Barker, a Menasha city councilor and a member of Winnebago County’s Board of Supervisors who thinks the crop potentially represents a fresh source of income for farmers.

“Obviously we’ve got to do something to find an alternative crop or all of our farms will go under,” she said.

Hemp is grown in other counties for U.S. sales articles ranging from shoes and clothing to automotive parts and the hemp oil in the soaps, shampoos and beauty products sold by Sue Kastensen of Westby.

“A lot of people in our particular market are pretty educated about hemp,” her business partner Beth Unger said. “Until it’s a process of education, however, we do make available to stores little hemp booklets saying, “Why use hemp oil?” talking about the health benefits and what not.”

Kastensen could be among the business representatives, farmers, elected officials, law enforcement officers and other speakers at the Aug. 22 conference sponsored by Glacierland, one of the state’s six rural development and conservation organizations.

The organization represents Winnebago, Outagamie, Brown, Fond du Lac, Calumet, Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties and Oneida Indians.

Barker displays a 1942 pamphlet published by the University of Wisconsin that declares: “Our armies and allies need hemp.”

It refers to the legal production of hemp during World War II for rope and other wartime materials. Wisconsin had about 40,000 acres in hemp agriculture by 1943.

Federal law now forbids farming it but allows U.S. businesses to import it.

Farm organizations supported a resolution in May 1999 by several Wisconsin legislators favoring legalization of the crop.

“We think it is absolutely time to move forward with the growing of hemp,” Russ Weisensel of the Wisconsin Agribusiness Council said at the time.

“We use 75 percent of the hemp production in this world,” Rep. Carol Owens, R-Oshkosh, said, “so why should the Wisconsin farmer not make a living from this?”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service said in January there would be only a small market for farmed hemp.

All the hemp fiber, yarn and fabric that the United States currently imports could be grown on less than 2,000 acres of land, the report said.

John Wodele, a spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura who advocates industrial hemp as a financial benefit for at least some farmers, said he was “suspect” about the government’s ability to issue an unbiased report.

In February, the Illinois Senates Agriculture Committee voted 6-0 for legislation that would allow growing hemp for research, an idea subject to approval by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

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