The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal under the U.S. Department of Agriculture for farmers to produce hemp, but the federal agency has been slow to implement some aspects of the new law.
That’s an issue for potential hemp farmers in Montana who are trying to buy seeds from Canada.
The USDA doesn’t plan to approve state hemp plans, which license farmers to grow industrial hemp for agricultural purposes, until fall.
That’s left the seeds in legal limbo at the border between the United States and Canada. About half of new hemp growers in Montana plan to buy seeds from Canada this season, according to state Department of Agriculture attorney Cort Jensen.
As Jensen explained, border crossing agents may still have been expecting approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which is no longer the department in charge.
“There was a hiccup because people weren’t sure what sort of paperwork would be needed to cross that border, and there was still some older documentation out there telling people on both sides of the border don’t let things cross if they don’t have this DEA paperwork which was no longer required under the 2018 farm bill,” said Jensen.
Hemp farmer Ross Johnson from Great Falls said farmers need to know now whether they can legally import hemp seed or they’ll lose out on the chance to plant other types of crops instead.
“Basically, you have to plant wheat and barley sooner, like between now and June, and if we’re waiting for hemp seed that never shows up to be planted in June, in the interim you foreclose the opportunity to plant wheat and barley,” said Johnson.
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and USDA agreed to clarify hemp seed importation rules and allow the seeds through the Canada-U.S. border after urging from Democratic Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Farmers in Montana have been growing hemp under a limited pilot program authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. The plant was decriminalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.