HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Department of Agriculture received formal approval of its hemp production plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 6. This federal authorization comes after a nearly 60-day review period.

The 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to develop a national regulatory framework for hemp and include a process for states desiring to have primary authority to submit their production plans. On Oct. 31, 2019, the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program was established through the USDA’s Interim Final Rule, which included provisions for licensing requirements, sampling and testing procedures, maintaining information on land where hemp is produced, and disposal requirements. Montana submitted its state plan on Jan. 9.

While the Montana Department of Ag views the approval of its plan as a major accomplishment, there were some areas of compromise exchanged with USDA.

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

The Montana State Hemp Program has been federally compliant since its formation. Operating under authority provided in the 2014 Farm Bill, the pilot program grew from nearly 20 growers and close to 525 acres in 2017, to nearly 60 growers and around 22,000 acres in 2018. With the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was removed from the controlled substances list and regulatory authority transferred from the Drug Enforcement Agency to USDA. Interest in hemp surged and more than 200 licensed growers planted approximately 50,000 acres in 2019.

Growers can expect procedures similar to those implemented in 2019 for the 2020 growing season. Montana will continue to operate under authorities provided in the 2014 Farm Bill until October 2020. Montana State Hemp License applications have been available since January and MDA will continue to accept them through April 30.

Montana is one of 11 states and 12 tribes with an approved plan. The Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana received approval of its plan on Jan. 27.