History of Wisconsin Hemp: DeForest Hemp Mill

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - During World War II Wisconsin was one of the world’s leading hemp growers and manufacturers. The fiber was in high demand to make things like rope. A mill in DeForest processed thousands of pounds of local hemp into fibers for the war effort.

According to historical documents from the DeForest Historical Society, the 50-acre plant was located off of Highway 51.

“It kind of puts Deforest on the map in terms of those years and what was a very successful agricultural pursuit at that time,” John Englesby with the DeForest Historical Society said.

A news article from the Wisconsin State Journal in 1944, the mill processed up to 20,000 pounds of hemp in 1943. The crop came from around 400 local farmers who were yielding around $100 an acre.

A shortage of workers during World War II meant that high school students were often employed at the hemp mill. One of them was Charlotte Lochner. She worked at the mill during the early 1940s.

“We would take it and rake it through the first process.” Lochner said. “You could hardly breathe because it was so hazy.”

She said she used to make around 20 cents an hour for her work which she said was “big money” during that time.

In 1947 the mill was purchased by the Oconomowoc Canning Company. The U.S. federal government outlawed hemp growing and manufacturing in 1957. In the 2014 Farm Act the reinstated the crop. In early 2018 Wisconsin passed legislation allowing farmers to grow the crop. The bill also allows manufacturers to process it. More than 30 other states have passed similar legislation.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, 82 processors registered to convert the crop, mainly into CBD oil. 285 samples have already been sent to DATCAP for testing. 21 have already failed testing meaning they had more than 0.3 percent of one percent THC. Those crops were destroyed.