Wisconsin hemp growers experience labor shortage

COLUMBUS, Wis. (WMTV) - Wiscanna-- a hemp growing and processing company in Columbus-- has planted about 200 acres of hemp. Last year, as the company explored farming techniques, it only planted three acres.

“It’s a big operation,” said Wiscanna’s Teddy Agnew. “It’s scaled up very quickly.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), there are 1,247 hemp growers registered this year and those producers planned to grow an estimated 17,000 acres.

Compared to 2018, there were 185 registered growers and only 135 got a crop in the ground.

Agnew’s business partner and S&C Lab Corp CEO Steve Croke said every hemp grower is facing the same challenge.

“Last year, we had about 30 people during the harvest,” Croke said. “Today, we have about 15 people just weeding things around.”

While the harvest season is still a few weeks away, workers are out in the hemp fields now helping to pull pesky weeds.

“The weeds have been difficult,” said Agnew. “We can’t use any pesticides or herbicides [on the hemp plants], so it’s all manually clearing out the rows."

Wiscanna has invested in equipment like a custom harvester, a drying machine, and a threshing machine.

Croke said automation comes at a cost.

“You’re going to have labor cost or you try and automate it,” he said. “We’re trying to do a little of both this season.”

While Wisconsin hemp growers look to the future, many are also looking to hire local.

“Our goal is to employ local people that want to be a part of this movement,” Croke said.

“I think it’s just kind of an exciting time to be on the forefront of the industry,” agreed Agnew.

For those interested in employment with the industrial hemp industry, you may email wiscanna@gmail.com.