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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Tester Worried About Montana Hemp Growers During Government Shutdown

Hemp plant.
Hemp plant. File photo.

Montana’s senior U.S. senator wants to ensure the ongoing partial government shutdown doesn’t hamper farmers’ ability to grow hemp.

Specifically, Democrat Jon Tester wants to make sure hemp growers have access to federal Bureau of Reclamation water.

Tester and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet sent a letter this week to BOR Commissioner Brenda Burman.

“For those folks that have access to BOR water we did not want the Bureau of Reclamation to say, ‘Well you can raise hemp but you just can’t use BOR water to irrigate it with.’ That’s not what we wanted. We wanted to have it open so that they can raise the hemp and increase their bottom line.”

Historically, hemp growers were denied access to federally-controlled water due to conflicting policies.

The government shutdown has stalled implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation after a decades-long hiatus.

Tester concedes there probably aren’t many Montana agriculture producers who rely on federal water, but for those who do, “It’s a big issue. We got a grower in the Helena valley that got a hold of us a couple of years ago that said she could not use BOR water to irrigate her hemp. And we took this issue up then and we just want to get ahead of the curve in this Congress.”

Tester says farmers are currently planning out their spring crops and need certainty that they don’t now have because of the government shutdown and the debate about a barrier along the southern border.

He says a wall would cost millions of dollars-per-mile to build. Tester wants studies completed that analyze the best methods to secure the southern border.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
(406) 243-4065
Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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