After a year of battling federal regulations, Helena Valley hemp farmer Kim Phillips has been granted a contract that will allow her to use federally controlled water to irrigate her crop. The decision was made with just days to spare, as the last day for Phillips to plant a viable crop is June 1.
Phillips is part of Montana’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program, which authorizes her to grow industrial hemp in the state. However, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation prohibits the use of federally controlled water to irrigate controlled substances such as hemp, which is closely related to marijuana. Phillips will be using water from Canyon Ferry Reservoir, which is federally controlled.
“It really is an extraordinary day for hemp and the hemp industry,” Phillips said. “It shouldn’t take this long to get water for your hemp, it just shouldn't. A lot of people were supportive -- both senators, Grow Hemp, Vote Hemp, things like that -- and I could not have got it done without each one of those and all the people that put in work before me, that have chipped away at all these battles for a plant.”
The decision to allow this use of water was based on an exemption outlined by the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which states that an institution of higher education or a state department of agriculture may grow or cultivate hemp "for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research," and "the growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institutions of higher education or State department of agriculture is located, and such research occurs."
According to Steve Davies, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau decided that Phillips fits this exception. The Bureau has done its part in deciding to authorize the contract, and now it is between Phillips, her landowner and the Helena Valley Irrigation District to get the water to her field. Phillips and the landowner must simply sign the contract, which she planned to do Wednesday.
The Bureau approves these kinds of contracts on a regular basis, but the nature of Phillips’ crop put pressure on the decision. Contracts are made for other crops, but hemp’s relation to marijuana makes it unqualified.
“We are satisfied with the decision,” Davies said. “It’s important that we took the time and got the decision right. We had to make sure that the program she is operating under fits the exemption in the federal Farm Bill. Going forward, we will continue to evaluate these on a case-by-case basis.”
Giving Phillips the water sets a precedent for Montana hemp farmers in the future. According to Davies, further cases will also have to meet the exemption outlined in the Farm Bill in order to receive a contract.
Phillips is relieved that the decision was reached before it was too late to plant, and she will be planting the seeds in the days to come.