COLLINS - During a summer summit hosted by the Fort Benton-based company, IND HEMP, hundreds of people from all around the country gathered to get a deeper insight into what some claim to be one of the oldest cultivated crops.
A field tour brought the public out to the small town of Collins, in Teton County, in which they toured Sam Armstrong's grain and fiber field.
When asked about his interests in hemp, Armstrong said, "We were first interested in growing hemp for handling different commodities other than what is typically grown within our areas, and also the benefit of the plant for the ground and rotations."
Some farmers claim that one of the ways to balance out risk is to diversify crops, with hemp being an option.
Armstrong spoke on the differences between grain and fiber.
“Grain harvest will go in typically like we would for any other, like wheat or barley," Armstrong explained. "We'll go in cut seed harvest that stored in a bin and that'll be our main delivered crop to IND hemp. As far as fiber goes, they come in and mow off the material and then this material sits, gets raked up and baled and that's the actual product that we deliver rather than seed.”
One of the positives that many farmers see in hemp is that it's one of the most eco-friendly textiles on the planet. Inherently antimicrobial, it's an ideal material for shoemaking.
Alyse Russel — who made her way from California — She specializes in sustainability at the shoe company, "Vans." She says her job is geared towards transitioning materials used to make shoes and clothing to sustainable alternatives.
"Our main strategy for that is regenerative agriculture," she said. "We’re really interested in farming and the crops, and making sure the sources of our materials are being grown in an environmentally preferred way, including hemp," Russel explained. "We use quite a bit of hemp in our shoes, in the canvas in the top of our shoes. We use a 50-50 blend of hemp and cotton. We’re really invested in the hemp space and trying to make it grow in the United States, and making sure we can bring sustainability into the message.”
Hemp is known to be one of the oldest cultivated crops in the nation, dating back more than 1,000 years ago. China and Canada are said to be the top producers of hemp. However, The 2018 Farm Bill that authorized the production of hemp put the United States as one of the top producers. Some speculate that the U.S. could eventually surpass China and Canada.
Challenging but rewarding, Armstrong discussed the overall experience of growing hemp.
"It's been a challenge all together," he said. "The experience of growing hemp has been a learning process. It's been a lot of work and a lot of effort. It brought a lot of people into this realm of trying to understand how to do things."
During their third annual Montana Hemp Summer Summit, IND HEMP aims to educate the community about the hemp industry. Their mission is to provide new opportunities for farmers and rural communities in Montana and across the American West. During the three-day event, they invited the public to tour their fiber processing facility.
The newly built 52,000 square ft fiber facility sits on 10 acres adjacent to their oilseed facility creating the nation's first, true hemp processing campus. The site is purpose-built around a 5-ton-per-hour LAROCHE decortication line as well as cleaning, classifying, milling and packaging equipment to quickly and efficiently provide a consistent supply of hemp materials.
Visit https://indhemp.com/ to learn more about IND HEMP.