The farmers behind Montana's burgeoning hemp industry were gathered in a workshop that shares their enthusiasm for a crop that rapidly increased in acres. Then someone asked for a display of the hands of those who had made profits on the marijuana's right cousin.
There were about 65 growers at the meeting, recalled Chuck Holman, co-op organizer of Montana Hemp and owner of Earth In Hand: Soil Health Services in Missoula.
"They got successful cultivation of hemp," he said. "But when asked who served, only one hand went up."
Growing hemp was the easy part.
Montana Department of Agriculture hemp statistics suggest the crop is increasing in popularity. There are now 277 farmers licensed by the state to grow hemp. Hemp's resemblance to marijuana ̵
"We have a total of 43,626 registered acres," said Ben Thomas, Montana Department of Agriculture. "There are an additional 13,036 acres that were estimated, but have not yet been reported. They should come in within the next two weeks. So 50,000 acres as a ballpark should be fairly close, with 45,000 acres as a more conservative estimate. "
Interest grew after the farm bill in 2018 loosened the regulations for growing hemp, but Montana was already plugging away.
This is not Montana's first attempt at a crop that promises a decent payout and multiple uses, ranging from biofuels to feed. A decade ago, the Camelina was on a par with state-sponsored hemp and a lot of promise such as health supplements, soap ingredients and a fuel alternative, and Brian Schweitzer, Montana's governor at the time, told a reporter that if he had a girlfriend, the Camelina would be her name.
But after years of state promotion and federal studies to determine if the oil could fuel military jets, which it did, Camelina went bust because a v Lack of a mature market.
Thomas said hemp is different. The CBD oil market is still growing strong enough to keep hemp in play for several years.
Difficult than growing hemp got it marketed with just a few buyers. Both growers and the state Department of Agriculture spoke cautiously about the pending legal action between farmers and buyers first on the scene.
There has been some of the wild west to the hemp economy in the three years since hemp farming took root in Montana. Holman tells of a fertilizer seller who sold inputs that actually boosted tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in the hemp that the farmers cultivated. It is THC in marijuana that makes the drug intoxicating. Hemp normally has tracking levels of THC that are not nearly strong enough to get a person stoned. The state requires THC levels in hemp to be 0.3% or less, which is far less than that found in medical marijuana, the only legal type in Montana.
Farmers have had problems with companies that not only buy harvested hemp, but also sell the seed. The seed that some farmers received was not a selection known for producing the best cannabidiol, or CBD, which is where the money is with hemp. CBD oil is used to treat pain, anxiety and insomnia. When farmers brought their hemp to the market, they discovered that it was lower in CBD than they had been told to expect. Consequently, they were less profitable.
Seedlings have promised an extremely high percentage of female plants, but then the seeds sprouted problematic males. The male plants have seeds and the seeds are not desirable in the CBD business where hemp flowers, not seeds, deliver the goods.
& # 39; Do it right & # 39;
That a hemp farmer Holman remembered to raise a hand to indicate he was profitable was Sam Belanger, a northern hemp farmer in Montana who applied for a permit on September 24, the first day Montana began licensing businesses that want to make hemp oil. Belanger plans to convert a 16,000-square-foot building into a hemp extraction business and begin making hemp oil in October.
“We are not a garage operation. There are many garage operations and brokerage houses out there that jump in and they don't know what they are doing, ”Belanger said. “You use seven figures on equipment just to get started and do it right. People could do this on the stove, but it does not make it safe. "
Belanger's company is Green Ridge Biosolutions US Inc. He expects the business to grow as Montana's horticulture grows and interest in hemp products grows. CBD is the hot hemp product for now, but other items like hemp clothing and paper have the most potential, Belanger said.
“Right now, the CBD market is bigger. There is more product, the industry is building up. In ten years, fiber is the bigger market because there is more use of it, but we don't have a large fiber processing plant in the US, ”Balanger said.
Near Hysham, farmer Bart Icopini is getting ready to harvest his first hemp crop. It is a 12-acre site, planted next to grains, beet and wheat.
He is still thinking about exactly how to cut the hemp. The thickest stems are three inches in diameter, Icopini said. That kind of thickness is enough to wreck a swather. He plans to use an industrial weed cutter with leaves instead of string.
"We do this for CBD," Icopini said, "we've pulled out males or chopped them out. That's when you realize how thick the stalks are."
Farmers pull the male plants to prevent them from pollinating The female plants The thinning protects the flowers needed to produce CBD oil. The work is intense. Icopini said he hired influencers to pull the male plants. his farm near Hysham.
But if the payout is as expected, the farmer said the work should be worth it. He expects to be paid at least $ 2 for his dried hemp flowers and expects more than a pound per plant.
It has been an adventure that grows a crop that looks and smells exactly like marijuana, there is a new state, fish, wildlife and parks that fish down the road from hemp acres. been a pig
"I hear the FWP has made a few calls," he said.