GREAT FALLS – The Montana Farmers Union and the Montana Department of Agriculture held a meeting in Great Falls on Friday to discuss industrial hemp.
Over the last two years, Montana’s industrial hemp pilot program has grown from 500 acres to about 20,000 acres making it the largest hemp-producing state in the country.
The new US Farm Bill legalizes it across the U.S., which means that more Montana fields may be going green.
“Some producers that were on the fence about it because of rules and regulations are going to be maybe more excited to try it or move forward with it,” says Justin Loch, MFU Development Director.
The United States Department of Agriculture must approve state plans for production and cultivation but those federal guidelines closely match Montana’s pilot program.
“So with relatively minor tweaks Montana’s system should be one of the first up and running for the 2019 growing season,” says Cort Jensen, Chief Attorney for the Montana Department of Agriculture.
Legalization beyond the tightly controlled pilot programs also opens it up for crop insurance.
“People that want to grow hemp for truly legitimate purposes didn’t necessarily want to risk the farm every year that a freak fire or flood would wipe them out,” says Jensen.
However, it will take time before that insurance is widely available.
“We’re probably looking at four or five years of data that will need to be collected and turned in so that insurance companies even know what the crop is what the growing conditions things like that,” says Loch.
Despite the hurdles that still lie ahead, producer Colby Johnson says farmers need a way to combat low grain prices.
“We need another tool under our belt as farmers as producers to find some sort of revenue to keep the farms going,” he says.
The US Farm Bill and the legalization of industrial hemp will not go into effect until President Trump signs it into law.
-Joe Huisinga reporting for MTN News