USDA approves Montana hemp plan, but state will keep pilot rules for now

Montana agriculture officials have pushed through with getting federal approval on the state’s hemp production plan. But they will still operate the 2020 production season under the existing pilot rules, which expire Oct. 31.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Montana’s plan Friday. The Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) submitted it on Jan. 9.

But soon after applying for federal approval, Montana officials said they planned to keep operating for another year under the rules of the 2014 Farm Bill and opened applications. Montana reiterated in a statement on Tuesday that state farmers can “expect procedures similar to those implemented in 2019 for the 2020 growing season.”

“I’m pleased with USDA’s approval of our plan, but still see a need to advocate for what will work best in Montana,” Thomas said.

“Because the hemp industry is so new, and growing conditions can vary so much from state to state, there’s still potential for improving oversight at the federal level.”

There were areas of compromise between the state and the federal authorities during the approval process, MDA Director Ben Thomas said in the department statement.

One area of compromise: sampling protocols. The USDA rules require law enforcement to visit all farms within a 15-day window before harvest. Montana originally did not adhere to that 15-day sampling window, but amended its plan to comply.

Last year, Montana licensed more than 40,000 acres and 250 growers, according to Hemp Industry Daily’s 2019 Cultivation Snapshot. It was the top hemp producer in 2018 with 22,000 acres.