Hemp wins federal water battle, just in time for Montana farmer

Hemp farmers may have access to federal water if they follow Farm Bill rules for growing the crop, thanks to a long battle by a Montana farmer and state agriculture authorities to secure water rights from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Montana decision has enormous implications for the nascent hemp industry. The Reclamation Bureau is the nation’s largest wholesale supplier of water, and many U.S. farmers rely on it, especially in the arid West.

Kim Phillips received her water contract Wednesday, just days before the deadline to plant hemp in Montana’s short summer.

Phillips planted 12 acres of hemp in 2017, only to see her crop wither and die when federal authorities said they couldn’t let her irrigate. The Reclamation Bureau said that the 2014 Farm Bill didn’t authorize access to federal water rights.

Several Western U.S. senators introduced legislation last year to address hemp and water rights, but the bill languished.

A Reclamation Bureau spokesman said that hemp-related water requests will now be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see if the requests comply with the Farm Bill.

– Associated Press