Eric Rose, a longtime foodie, restaurateur and farmer, is expanding his business to include a new crop — hemp.

Rose, owner of River Valley Ranch in Wheatland, is one of a growing number of southeastern Wisconsin farmers and first-time growers who are venturing into hemp, hoping to cash in on what is fast becoming the latest crop craze.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection reports that 247 growers applied for licenses last year, with only 139 actually planting hemp.

Those who applied for licenses last year, only registered to grow small acreages, the agency reported, noting that some who actually grew the crop were uncertain of how to harvest it.

But the interest is stronger this year: The DATCP received nearly six times as many applications.

Donna Gilson, a spokeswoman for the DATCP, said interest has heightened as more growers are learning of the various uses and types of hemp as well as how to adjust to soil and weather conditions.

Last year, the growing season was not so good.

“Last year, the weather was terrible,” she said.

Growers are hoping for a better growing season in 2019 that starts with planting in May and harvesting in September.

While some want to grow a type of hemp for seed, food and other products, others are looking to grow a type for cannabinoid oil, or CBD, that has become popular as treatment for a number of different health conditions and ailments.

At the 37-acre River Valley Ranch, 39900 60th St., Rose, who began growing crops to produce fresh, healthy foods, has a strategic plan for hemp production.

As a meticulous, scientific farmer he is looking to grow it organically on about two acres.

Before digging in, Rose, who grows organic mushrooms and a host of other vegetables and fruits that he serves in his restaurant, sort of went to hemp school.

He studied it, attended seminars, went to workshops and took field trips to farms that were growing hemp.

He quickly learned that hemp “has good value. It has some potential health benefits. (I thought) if we can grow it legally, we can see how we can make a go of it,” Rose said.

“Some people call it the ‘Green Rush-Gold Rush.”

He is awaiting federal organic certification of the parcel where he will grow the crop from 1,000 organically grown seedlings he is purchasing from the Turtle Creek Gardens, a Delavan farm. He will be growing for CBD production.

Certification requires that there has been no chemical input in that land and strict record keeping. And the DATCP requires test samples of the plant.

With unpredictable Wisconsin weather conditions, Rose said he plans to do the planting in late May.

“Like with our other fragile plants, we’ll wait until after the danger of frost,” he said.

“There’s a market for some part of the plant. It also can be used as a food product and for protein. Also, (hemp) has fairly deep roots that will improve the soil quality,” Rose said.

Future plans may call for the production of a larger field and on-site CBD processing.

River Valley Ranch already operates a commercial processing kitchen and a farm market store.

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