2021 Grower Spotlights

2021 Grower Spotlights

We are excited to shine the light on our farmers and share the stories of the incredible farmers pioneering a new crop. Our team communicates with our farmers on a regular basis learning from their successes and challenges, our farmers are brining common sense and bravery to this learning process. Take a minute to read their stories and learn from their advice, challenges, and successes.

Willie Hughes

Wisconsin Hemp Farmer & Organic Farmer

Seasons growing hemp: 3

Willie’s family farm has been in production since Wisconsin became a state. He’s had organic farm production since 1991, and focuses his agronomics on regenerative farming practices. He has been growing hemp for the past couple of seasons and is excited to see what this crop can do.

Q: What got you into Hemp?

A: We are a highly diversified row crop operation. I am proud to share that this year we have 13 identity preserved crops on our organic side and 6 or 7 on the conventional side. We have had our organic ground since 1991, and even on our conventional side we see ourselves as setting the benchmark for what a 21-century regenerative or sustainable farm looks like. I have seen first-hand in my career, and certainly my dad has seen as well, that there are so many benefits to extending the rotation and moving away from a 1 or 2 crop rotation. That’s where I started, looking at how hemp could be another crop in my rotation.

Obviously when hemp was available for growing from the 2018 farm bill came out – being a specialty operation and having organic an operation, and looking at where the market potential would be for the crop – I felt obligated to throw my hat in the ring. I want to play a part in jump starting a new industry for my generation. We decided to jump in not knowing where it would go – whether for CBD, fiber, or fuel.

By slowly working our way through the industry I have been indoctrinated into seeing hemp as a fantastic opportunity for growers to introduce into their farm – and once we solve some of the hurdles in marketing and the market development – there are so many reasons why it should be adopted on American farms.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge with hemp?

A: One of the biggest challenges is the intensive management it requires especially when you are hand transplanting and hand harvesting and hanging and bagging which is like the MJ model as I call it.

That has a lot of challenges for the average grower, so with New West Genetics ABOUND® and ELITE® varieties offering the potential for dual purpose crops they offer the ability for farmers to scale and mechanize – it seems like an obvious or natural progression for the industry. The dual crop model is going to help adoption of hemp in the industry, because that would be a barrier for many growers who are not willing to transplant by hand, and lay drip line, and hand harvest like I did a couple of years ago.

Q: What do you love about NWG seed?

A: I am excited about the ABOUND varieties that offer the dual-crop in grain and fiber. If I can establish a food grade market in my area and expand my acreage, then someday I will collect the biomass and look into the fiber market as well.

Q: What advice would you give to other hemp farmers or to farmers considering growing hemp?

A: Know your cost of production, have a plan B, and understand what you are getting yourself into. Its important to understand the risks of a brand-new industry, and a new crop on your farm. I recommend farmers do the research, make the connections, network, and don’t be afraid of failure.

What ever you do don’t just jump in. Don’t do 500 acres without a market. Go out and walk the field and harvest it with the people who have experienced hemp – this is a new industry and with the rewards that come with a new industry there is also going to be risk.

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