A Guide to Growing Hemp in Montana
Given the demand there is for hemp crops, and the expanding legality of planting and harvesting it, you might be thinking about growing hemp in Montana so that you can cash in on this profitable and lucrative opportunity. Hemp winds up getting used for making anything from health products to pieces of motor vehicles, with a thousand or more other uses in between.
It’s natural to think that growing hemp in the state of Montana would be a sure thing, considering how the state’s primary economic sector is the agricultural industry. However, the success of a hemp crop is quite hit or miss across the state. Keep reading to learn 9 discrete factors covering both climate and agricultural conditions in the state of Montana so you can learn if you can even try it where you have farmland available.
Plant Hardiness Zone(s)
Plant Hardiness Zones: Most of the state falls into a range of 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, and 5b. There is a small portion of the northwest region that actually has a 6a zone. Hemp is usually a safe bet in the 6a zone, and it can be done with work in zones 4 and 5. Trying to plant it in any zone 3 is likely going to be a futile attempt.
Thermal Zones: You might think that the mountainous west would be more of the colder 3 zones with the plains and flatlands to the east being more 4 and 5. However, the dispersion of all three zones is very sporadic across the state and impossible to describe even generally in a paragraph of text. Unless you’re in the 6a zone in the northwest, it’s best to just enter your ZIP code into the online USDA database in order to determine crop viability, as some mountain valleys might be 4 or 5 zones with shelter, but there are also patches of open plains that get cold enough to be 3 zones and inhospitable to hemp. If the website or another resource you use doesn’t list hemp, a good cross-reference to look up is corn, which often thrives in similar conditions to hemp and can usually be planted in the same place.
Length of Growing Season
Growing Season Length: On average, Montana farmers only get 95 days between the final frost and the first one. This makes it hard on hemp, which has some frost resistance but usually needs 160 days for mature cultivation. Zone 3 locations simply don’t have a wide-enough window. Those in zones 4 and 5, which is nearly half the state, have to plant in the middle of May to have a chance. Those in 6a can start at the beginning of May.
Average Annual Sunlight
Average Annual Sunlight: The state averages a bit more than half its total available hours of sunlight, running 55 to 61 percent. Expect 150 up to 210 sunny days, although more often than not, those will be partly sunny. Farmers trying to take advantage of warm pockets of 4/5 zones in mountain valleys should consider how the shadows of eastern and western ridges can reduce sunlight hours in select locations.
Average Annual Precipitation
Average Annual Precipitation: It’s only 15.34 inches across the state, which is really low for a thirsty crop such as hemp.
Elevation: The lowest points are along the Kootenai River at 1,800 feet above sea level, with Granite Peak being the highest point at 12,799 feet. Again, topography doesn’t always correlate to hardiness zones, as open terrain can have pockets of the colder 3a and 3b zones hemp probably fails in.
Soil pH: Montana’s soil varies wild in this regard, but it’s usually between 4.5 and 8.5. Hemp typically needs 6.0 or higher. Further complicating factors is that soil acidity in this state is growing, as the number of locations under 6.5 have quadrupled in recent decades.
Montana ranks second nationally in terms of land use for farming or ranching, with roughly 18,000 locations using 57 million acres, averaging 2,036 acres. However, soil composition varies drastically given how fertilizer use and soil runoff are changing compositions from year to year and even farm to farm.
Besides some of the common pests that many farmers have to worry about, the Japanese Beetle is proving to be a very destructive invasive species to this state.
Obtaining A Hemp Grower’s License In Montana
Under federal law, it is illegal to grow hemp anywhere in the United States without first obtaining a grower’s license from the appropriate regulatory body for the state in which the interested party intends to plant the crop. View our breakdown of the 2018 Farm Bill for more information on the legal status of hemp in Montana, as well as a breakdown of the application process.
|Program Name||Program Type||Resources|
|Montana||Commercial||Montana Department of Agriculture|