The hemp industry in Montana is changing rapidly. Each year more growers are adding the crop to their operation and more processors are coming on board to turn the crop into a finished product. With the expansion of the industry come new challenges for growing, processing and marketing the crop. In January, Montana Farmers Union held a hemp workshop in Great Falls at the Times Square building.
MFU President Walter Schweitzer said the purpose of the workshop was to introduce growers to the product and give processors an opportunity to pitch their services to growers. “The infrastructure hasn’t been developed yet,” said Schweitzer. ”They are working on it. Right now agriculture is facing a crisis. We’ve got this unilateral trade war with all of our major customers and farmers are struggling trying to find a crop that will succeed. Hemp has a lot of potential. I don’t believe we are there yet, but we are learning.”
Over 100 people attended the full-day event. Andy Gray with the Montana Department of Agriculture(MDOA) provided an update on the licensing requirements, testing process and an overall update on the Montana industry.Gray noted there were 90 varieties planted last year. Weston Merrill, also with the MDOA, discussed marketing of the crop.
A grower panel discussion addressed the challenges of raising the crop and shared successes and failures of the growing season. They also discussed the need for further research on the different crop varieties. Panelist and hemp grower Cary Kolstad started with the Montana hemp pilot program. Kolstad said he would like to see the fiber market develop with support from processors in the state.A processing panel discussed the services each business offers and the industry at-large. Panelist Sam Belanger, COO of Green Ridge Biosolutions was the first licensed hemp processor in Montana. Belanger shared some advice to growers when choosing a processor. “Go to the facility and make sure they have liability insurance,” said Belanger. “Do your due diligence to make sure your crop is covered.”
Morgan Elliott, VP of Operations for IndHemp in Fort Benton, produces wholesale products.“Our finished product is going into salad dressings, protein bars and protein shakes.” IndHemp is in the process of building a pilot scale facility to process hemp seed.
Andrew Bishop of Ag Processing Solutions designs scalable processes for whole hemp plant processing. Bishop shared his vision for the future of the industry.“ What I really want to see people do is use the whole plant,” said Bishop. “That is how we grow as an industry. We need to be able to produce at a large scale to be successful and look at hemp as a commodity not a five acre parcel.”
Aeric Reilly and Rick Turner of Reilly Insurance presented on the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection(WFRP) program for the 2020 hemp crop year. To be eligible, among other requirements, growers must comply with state, tribal or federal regulations and have a contract for purchase of the insured industrial hemp. For more information on the WFRP program visit https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp or contact Reilly Insurance.
Also discussed was the potential for Hempcrete as a building material. Teaming up with Montana Farmers Union and Farmers Union Enterprise Kirby Hancock, founder of Transformative Ecologies LLC, and architect at Constructive Solutions Inc., is collaborating with Montana State University to research and testing the feasibility of Hempcrete. The study will include decorticating or husking raw hemp stalks, mixing and prototyping Hempcrete samples, product performance testing and Hempcrete construction applications.
Contact information for the panelists on the processors panel is posted here.