ELKHORN, Wis. (LNS)- In these busy weeks, when farmers in Walworth County need every minute af the long summer days to tend their fields, many are stealing hours to seek out and destroy large patches of marijuana plants that have been growing wild on their land.
"I never knew I had the stuff, " said LaVerne Baumeister, the sturdy grey-halred owner of a 203-acre farm near Elkhorn, the county seat. Mr. Baumeister was spraying 2, 4-D, a potent herbicide, on a sloping pasture, overgrown with foot-high plants. "The hemp doesn't get in my way, " he said. "But I don't mind helping the.government get rid of it."
Mr. Baumeister and farmers in ten other midwestern counties are working under a new federal program, funded by the bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which is part of the Justice Department. The program, In its experimental stages, is operated by the Dept. of Agriculture; it aims to determine whether a subsidy of $5 to $20 an acre will encourage farmers to help wipe out the weed.
"The farmers here are cooperating very well," says Russell M. Saari, Walworth Co. executive director for the Agriculture Dept. "And you can't say they are doing it for the money. They get only 90% of what it costs them for herbicide, renting the spraying equipment, and labor. "
Environmentalists are already at work, raising questions about the effects of the program on bird life. One Nebraska study showed that hemp seed was a preferred food of quails, doves, pheasants, and many song birds. And because 2, 4-D also acts on other plants, it is feared that nesting needed by such birds will also be wiped out.
2, 4-D is a toxic chemical which produces nausea and possibly does other internal damage when smoked. LOOK OUT!