Federal Government Taking a Common-Sense Approach to Assist a Montana Hemp Producer


There’s been a lot of discussion lately about growing industrial hemp in Montana. The state’s industrial hemp pilot program is now in it’s second year and some farmers are finding some much-needed profitability in growing the plant.

One Montana hemp producer though has found her way into a battle over the crop though. Kim Phillips who farms in the Helena Valley is authorized by the Montana Department of Agriculture to grow hemp but has been unable to irrigate her crop due to a rule that bans the use of federally controlled water on federally controlled substances.

Phillips was first denied the use of irrigation water from Canyon Ferry Reservoir by the Helena Valley Irrigation District last year because the reservoir is federally controlled. She has been working diligently with the Bureau of Reclamation since, trying to secure water for her crop.

Senators Danies and Tester heard Phillips request for help and introduced legislation last summer to clarify the laws. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Reclamation could not get to a decision point in 2017 because they were unsure if the use of the water was legal under the 2014 farm bill. Phillips ultimately lost her 2017 crop.

Over the last year the Bureau of Reclamation has been studying the issue to determine if Phillips can be allowed to use the water for raising hemp.

Kim Phillips was not deterred by the loss of her crop and the drawn-out debate she found herself in. Again in 2018 she requested to utilize the water to irrigate hemp. She maintained her registration under the Montana Department of Ag industrial hemp pilot program and the Drug Enforcement Agency. In addition, she has an agreement with Montana Tech to use the hemp she grows for research.

As the planting window for growing hemp in 2018 is quickly closing the Bureau of Reclamation has responded to her requests by allowing the use of water from Canyon Ferry.

The Bureau of Reclamation has determined that Phillips meets the exemption laid out in the 2014 farm bill that states hemp may be grown “for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.”

Steve Davies, the Area Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Montana Office says, “Hats off to Ms. Phillips, she has done everything she needed to do to get approval in place. She’s done a lot of leg work in trying to make sure that what she’s doing fits this exemption. It is very specific and pretty narrow in terms of what you have to get in place to do this.”

This is no small decision though and may potentially set a precedent for how industrial hemp is treated across the country moving forward. Hemp is already becoming more widely grown across the west and has already been brought up in early farm bill discussions to potentially remove it from the controlled substances list.


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