FORT BENTON — IND HEMP of Fort Benton hosted the "Montana Summer Summit" this week.
One of the highlights of the week came from Sun River farmer Chuck Merja, who is contracted with IND HEMP, and announced that he raised fiber hemp for the Fort Benton-based company. Merja is widely known as his role for the Sun River Robotics Team, and while he has experience as a farmer, alongside his brothers, Pat and Elliott, he has never grown fiber hemp before.
Merja explained, "The idea is to home-grow hemp for use here in the U.S. China is the major producer, and it's time for a resurgence in the hemp industry. We decided to take a chance on fiber. It seemed to fit into our production system pretty well, and so far, we've been really happy with how it's turned out.
Merja said about 4,000 pounds per acre of fiber hemp will be cut and given to IND HEMP for purposes of manufacturing. Merja said, "This is finer fiber, meant for the textile industry instead of making rope ... This will be in clothes or shoes, we think."
Mikayla Moore, the Hemp Program Officer for the Montana Department of Agriculture, said, "This particular crop looked great. It will be something that we'll come in and take a regulatory sample and verify THC levels, but by the time this sits here and breaks down, there's little to no THC in it, and it's not going to be ingested. I believe this crop will be used in textile grain fiber."
Guy Carpenter is a textile and apparel manufacturer based in North Carolina. He attended to analyze the crops as well and said he was pleased with what he saw.
Carpenter said it's important to keep in mind that for a healthy crop like fiber hemp, it should be between six to eight feet long with the same level of thickness as a number two pencil. He also emphasized the importance of retting. Retting is a microbial process that breaks the chemical bonds that hold the stem together and allows separation of the bast fibers from the woody core.
Carpenter said, "Maybe not many people have heard of hemp in a sense of textile-grade fiber, but it's one of the oldest cultivated plants known to man, and that's what it's cultivated for, and it's the first textile fiber cultivated by man, so some people may not have paid attention to it, but those people who pay attention to the food they eat, are also beginning to pay attention to the clothes they wear, how they're made, what they're made with. Everything goes towards a more sustainable, and circular economy in this world, and I think that's a good thing."
Matthew Mead is someone who is familiar with fiber-based hemp - he is the CEO of Hempitecture, an Idaho-based company.
Mead said, "We're out here in the fields of Montana, seeing where our raw materials are grown, and they will ultimately be turned into high-performance sustainable insulation."
He added, "It's really great to see Montana agriculture flourishing and embracing a new crop here, and we're looking forward to partnering with farmers around Montana, and bringing them down to our facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, so they can see what they're growing in the field, and how it's turning into a long-lasting, sustainable, high performance, product."
One of the long-term goals of IND HEMP is to build a more sustainable future to produce high-quality hemp for a variety of industries and consumers, and one of the main ways to do this is through the practice of regenerative farming.