Great Falls, Montana | Montana's News Leader®

Montana Ag Network: industrial hemp is gaining traction among farmers

Montana’s Golden Triangle north of Great Falls is known for its world-class gain production. For the last two years, there is more green next to fields of golden wheat this fall as some farmers are planting industrial hemp.

"It grew from 500 acres last year to 14,000 acres just in the state of Montana," said Colby Johnson, who farms near Conrad.  "We can do a lot of different things with it."

Industrial hemp is an emerging crop in Montana and is growing in popularity through a pilot program sponsored by the Montana Department of Agriculture. The crop is legal to grow, under certain conditions. Unlike marijuana, which is still illegal under federal laws, industrial hemp has been given a narrow legal approval under the 2014 Farm Bill.

"CBD is what makes the difference between marijuana and hemp," said Johnson.  "Hemp grows the CBD where marijuana grows the THC. With hemp, there is no psychedelic effect by using hemp. Where marijuana you get the THC high. And, that’s pretty much the main misconception about it."

Until the early part of the 20th century, farmers across the nation grew hemp.

"Before 1930, 1940 every farmer had to grow hemp," said Johnson. "It was ordered by the government that every farmer had to grow a certain number of acres.  Until some lobbying groups from the paper company and newspapers saw it as a competitor. So, they started doing the reefer madness and put hemp with marijuana."

 For Johnson, diversifying the crops on his farm helps reduce financial risk. 

"As a farmer, I love to grow different things," said Johnson. "You have to keep farming exciting. With low commodity prices, it’s a perfect opportunity for hemp to come into play here. Obviously, it grows well here, and we have a lot of acres to grow it. If we can build a market and create a marketplace we can help out farmers and help out Montana."

Just like other oilseed crops grown in Montana, hemp is harvested with a combine while the crop is still green with a moisture of 11 to 17%.

"There are a few different ways to harvest it for different kinds of oils," Johnson said. "When you harvest it for grain its just like any other oilseed like canola or flax. It just gets crushed. "That’s where you get the hemp seed oil, and that goes into foods, topical creams, and other products."

Examples of other products made from hemp include fiber, paper, fabric, biodegradable plastics and more. Montana’s low humidity paired with experienced farmers may lead to more acres planted in the state with manufacturing facilities to follow.

Currently, farmers must purchase their hemp seed from Canada with the oversight of the Montana Department of Agriculture. The 2018 Farm Bill, if passed by Congress, will include legislation to remove all remaining barriers to grow and research industrial hemp across the United States.

  • Reported by Lane Nordlund – MTN News

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