Is Montana set to be at the front of the rapidly growing hemp industry? The state has quietly been planting the most hemp among U.S. states as farmers look for new ways to diversify their crops. Workshops are also appearing across the state as more farmers express interest in producing hemp.
“When I did these workshops, there were 60–75 people at most of the meetings,” said Justin Loch, membership director of the Montana Farmers Union, to HEMP. “It was pretty well received. Farmers are leaning towards [hemp] because other commodity crop prices are in the toilet. They’re looking for new crops to get income.”
Montana's Hemp Growth
Ian Foley, Montana’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program leader, says the state had 14 hemp producers and 425 acres in 2017. That number grew to 100 locations and about 25,000 acres last year.
A farm with 350 acres of hemp can result in a plant density of 110,000 plants per acre. This means the farm would have approximately 38,500,000 hemp plants.
Some state politicians are also hoping to push hemp along. Sen. Tom Jacobson introduced Senate Bill 176, which would establish a marketing label for hemp. If approved, this certification will require state-made hemp products to undergo lab testing for safety and labeling laws.
“Montana internationally has a bit of mystique to it, a brand in and of itself,” Jacobson said to the Great Falls Tribune. “It makes sense for hemp producers to be able to leverage that in the marketing of their product.”
However, there are also challenges in place. Montana only has 10 hemp processing facilities and start-up costs are high for new hemp farmers. But even without a roadmap, many farmers are still eager to try their luck.
“It’s all pretty much new. The same thing applies to when we planted,” said Colby Johnson, a fourth-generation farmer. “I talked to people in Oregon and they said ‘You have to plant it by hand. You have to pick it by hand. It has to be hand-dried.’ I’m not hand-picking 350 acres. We’re going to figure out how to do it on our own.”