By Justin Loch
membership director

During the pandemic I thought it would be a good time to reach out to a couple of our members in the hemp processing industry to learn more about their operation. The hemp industry has become quite popular, but many questions still remain. Processing and markets are two key areas in need of improvement. Member Ken Elliott of IndHemp in Fort Benton has worked for years to build a processing facility, and promote hemp production in Montana. I had the privilege of visiting with Morgan Elliott, VP of Operations for IndHemp, to get the company’s perspective on the future of hemp in Montana.

Q. What is IndHemp?
IndHemp is a national leader in the industrial hemp business focusing on food and fiber specifically. IndHemp is located in Fort Benton, Montana. IndHemp has designed, constructed and commissioned a multi-million-dollar oil processing facility. This food-grade facility has the capacity to process over 12,000 acres of hemp grain a year. IndHemp contracts with local producers using a seed genetics that is known and trusted for high oil and protein seed production. Known as IH Oilseeds we process for wholesale demand of three highly nutritious and quality products: Ultra-Pure Hemp Seed Oil, Hemp Plus 50, and Hemp Plus 30. Hemp Plus 50 and Hemp Plus 30 are high fiber and high protein powders.

Q. How long has INDHemp been in business?
IndHemp has been an idea of owner Ken Elliott for over six years when he applied and received the first license in Montana to produce industrial hemp. The company really took shape in late 2018 as the pending farm bill began to take form and legalization of industrial hemp was within reach. Since then it has been an all-out sprint as it was clear that a legitimate processor of something other than CBD was absolutely critical to the growth of the industry. This is especially true in Montana.

Q.How many people does INDHemp employ?
IndHemp employs ten full-time staff members. We have strategically kept overhead costs and infrastructure lean to maintain a competitive advantage in the market.

Q. How has IndHemp connected with Montana Hemp Producers?
Last year IndHemp contracted with almost 20 growers in the state on Montana for just under 3,000 acres. This year we have contracted with almost 40 individual growers and are working towards more than 12,000 acres total.

Q. What are IndHemp’s plans for growth?
IndHemp is breaking ground this summer on a new full-scale fiber processing facility. Details on capacity, purchasing of hemp fiber bales, and future contracts will be available shortly. We are working with growers all over the state and have first class agronomy support on staff to help any potential growers make the most of their crop. We are looking for a minimum of 40 acres. On-site grain storage is required.

Q. Why should a producer in Montana consider growing hemp?
Hemp, especially for grain and fiber production, is a great rotational crop that fits in seamlessly on most Montana farms. The plant’s inherent resilience makes it a reliable choice to withstand Montana’s various climates, soil types, and moisture availability. Just looking at straightforward farming economics there are few crops that compete on a dollar per acre basis. All farmers should at least have a conversation with a processor on the possibility of adding hemp to their operation.

Farmer Cary Kolstad shows IndHemp owner Ken Elliott around his field. Plants are just shy of 8 weeks old. Photo courtesy of IndHemp.

Q. What do you see as strengths in the Montana hemp industry?
Montana has a unique position in the hemp world unlike most of the country. From an agronomy perspective this is a great region for grain and fiber production. When you look at where these varieties are being grown successfully in the rest of the world, Montana sits in very similar latitudes and climates. Another advantage that Montana has is the price of land and sheer volume available. It makes it easier to justify trying a new crop like hemp and allows you to step into the industry at a volume that can really make a difference.

Q. What do you see as weaknesses in the MT hemp industry?
Unfortunately, Montana has been behind the eight ball so to speak in terms of research and general public knowledge. This has led to restrictive banking practices and less than favorable insurance plans. We are two to three  years behind other states in the region and you can see that really affects the ease into operation for many producers.

Q. Where do you see the future of the hemp industry?
IndHemp is in the hemp business for the long haul. We have found a specific position in the supply chain that we feel we are valuable in and have continued to make strategic partnerships to continue to grow. We believe Montana is a competitive location to continue growing the industry, and building a strong supply of feed stock with reliable growers. These factors will help keep us as a national leader in the industry.

Q. Where do you see the hemp market right now and in the future?
The hemp market is so diverse and continues to expand into several different markets. We have seen great promise and interest into the health and wellness industries, as well as cosmetics and skin care. Plant based proteins continue to be a hot topic in the food and beverage world and hemp nutritionally is a far superior product. Fiber is a hot topic in many different industries as well, and we think this will really help keep the value of the crop high. The sustainability of hemp also makes it attractive to producers and consumers alike. This will only help the longevity of the hemp market.

Q. What hemp products do you see as most lucrative?
In terms of highest margin valued products, the CBD specialty products seem to maintain higher valued retail prices. Unfortunately, the volume demand for these products limits the lucrative opportunity for many. This is quickly becoming a supply and demand issue and driving the price down of the raw biomass material. On the other hand, grain and fiber products have smaller margins per unit, but the sustainability and volume potential                                                                                                                 make them a more lucrative option for more people.

Q. Do you have any further comments regarding your business or the hemp industry?
Hemp in general is a very dynamic and changing industry with lots of great possibilities. We have invested greatly to be on the ground floor helping shape the industry. We see a bright future ahead for the industry. IndHemp is always advocating for farms and rural communities and will continue to keep things as close to the farm as possible. We know that without a network of producers and continued increases in Montana hemp acreage we will not be able to grow our business. You can look to IndHemp for trusted advice and reliable business!

Next month we will feature Green Ridge Biosolutions in Ronan, Montana. Owner Sam Belanger will discuss how his company is processing hemp and expanding their business.