We’re in the midst of July which means summer barbecue, fireworks, parades, and the newest celebration: hemp history week as of July 17-23. Hemp has quite the story throughout the history of Wisconsin, the Nation, and even worldwide. As one of the earliest plants to be cultivated, which continues to find new, modern-day applications, such a plant is perhaps worthy of its own week of celebration.

Hemp has only recently been made legal in Wisconsin. As many readers may recall, it was in 2018, with the implementation of Wisconsin’s pilot program, which still governs the growth and production of hemp today. Hemp’s history in Wisconsin started much earlier than the past few years and was grown in the early 1900s. With an ideal climate, large areas of soil well-suited to hemp culture, and an already firm agriculture industry, Wisconsin was one of the Nation’s top hemp producers by the 1940s. During World War 2 Wisconsin hemp was used to clothe American soldiers, as well as for cordage, tow, and calking in naval vessels.

Only recently have we seen the first Wisconsin hemp harvests in decades. As a relatively new crop, and industry overall, it’s been a learning process for farmers, business owners, and Wisconsin banks. Hemp is being used, as it has been for decades, for its fiber and oil for products such as clothing, rope, and extracts. Its uses are also being explored in modern applications such as hempcrete (a concrete alternative), biofuels, and hemp-infused drinks. In fact, as we emerge to enjoy the summer weather after the pandemic lockdowns, if you find yourself taking a stroll by the re-opened bars downtown, you might even sample a hemp-infused beer.

As the industry continues to develop, new growers may appear or expand their fields. Businesses may bring in new products or further develop their offerings. Innovators will explore new products, applications, and supply chains. If your bank has not already, it might expect to encounter a customer with some form of interest in hemp-related business in the future. Wisconsin banks provide a vital role in providing financial services and relationships to these businesses and individuals. Be it a farmer who is experimenting with a new crop, a small-business owner looking to bring in new products, or a multi-state producer with various lines of business, hemp-related businesses will be looking to Wisconsin banks to provide financial services to an industry that has not had access to such for decades.

Hemp month presents an opportunity to learn more about this historic, yet relatively new crop and the evolving industry. Banks might have seen, or may begin to see, new businesses within their communities. WBA has created numerous resources for those banks looking to learn more about the legality of hemp in Wisconsin, including a questionnaire and certification which is available through FIPCO.

If you have any questions on this topic or other matters of compliance, contact WBA’s legal call program at 608-441-1200 or wbalegal@wisbank.com.