skip to Main Content

“We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.” – Wendell Berry

A few days ago, there was a Facebook post of someone asking why traffic was backed up on Highway 191, south of Bozeman.  I expected the comments to be about an accident that was causing the delay, as is increasingly becoming a regular occurrence along that stretch.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see comments of the backup being due to a farmer moving his tractor along the highway, which is also common this time of year.  I was very glad to see that the comments were tremendously in support of the farmer and the agricultural operations, which are quickly reaching a frenzy before Montana’s short growing season that allows for the bulk of our state’s ag production ends.  Some of the comments included in the post were that this was “the best kind of traffic jam” and to “smile and wave,” or “tip your hat to the man up on the tractor”.  Here at the Gallatin Conservation District, we focus much time and resources on supporting the agricultural community.  From youth and adult education to landowner resources and cost-share opportunities- supporting our agricultural friends and neighbors is of utmost importance to Gallatin CD.  So those comments made my heart happy and hopefully touched the lives of the farmers and ranchers who may have seen that post.    

Montana-focused production agriculture refers to the agricultural practices and methods that are specifically tailored to the conditions and resources available in the state of Montana.  Our state is known for its vast land area, diverse climate, and unique agricultural challenges.

One of the key factors influencing Montana-focused production agriculture is the state’s large size and diverse geography. Montana has a wide range of landscapes, including mountains, plains, and plateaus, each with its own climate and soil characteristics. This diversity requires farmers and ranchers to adapt their production methods to the specific conditions of their region.  There are benefits and challenges that go along with that diversity.  Adapting to ever-changing conditions to tailor practices to maximize outcomes is truly an art form.  

Montana’s agriculture industry is primarily focused on livestock production, particularly beef cattle. The state has extensive grazing lands, making it suitable for raising cattle. Cattle ranching plays a significant role in Montana’s economy, and many ranchers practice extensive grazing, allowing their animals to graze on open ranges or large pastures.  Rangeland comprises approximately 70% of the land area in Montana.  Rangeland that is managed properly can naturally maintain plant health, soil integrity, water quality, and wildlife habitat.  

In addition to cattle, Montana farmers also cultivate a variety of crops, including wheat, barley, pulse crops (such as lentils and chickpeas), and oilseeds (such as canola and flaxseed). These crops are well-suited to our state’s climate and soil conditions. Wheat, in particular, is a major crop in Montana and contributes significantly to the state’s agricultural output.  To put this in perspective, consider some of these stats from the US Department of Agriculture, 2020 Production Stats:  Montana is ranked #1 in peas production, bringing in $81.7 million.  Also ranked #1 in lentil production- estimated at bringing in $90.6 million.  Barley is ranked #2 in the nation for Montana, bringing in $201 million, and ranked #3 in the country for wheat production, bringing in a staggering $1.2 billion.    

Montana-focused production agriculture often involves sustainable farming practices that aim to conserve natural resources and maintain the long-term productivity of the land. Farmers and ranchers in Montana employ various techniques such as rotational grazing, conservation tillage, and precision agriculture to minimize soil erosion, improve water efficiency, and reduce the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and weedicides.

The state also emphasizes agricultural research and education to support Montana-focused production agriculture. Montana State University (MSU) has a renowned College of Agriculture and provides research and extension services to farmers and ranchers across the state. These initiatives help to develop and disseminate innovative farming techniques and address specific challenges faced by Montana producers.

Overall, Montana-focused production agriculture recognizes the unique characteristics of the state’s geography, climate, and available resources. It involves the adoption of sustainable practices, the cultivation of suitable crops, and the promotion of livestock production, particularly beef cattle. By tailoring agricultural practices to the specific conditions of Montana, farmers, and ranchers can thrive in this challenging yet rewarding agricultural landscape, and weaving all these factors together in just the right way is, in fact, an art form.  The hard work of the agricultural community sustains our state, feeds our families, and helps our natural resources thrive.  Please keep these thoughts in mind while out and about, finding yourself in the midst of a tractor jam, or a cow drive, and be sure to give the folks in the tractor a friendly wave or a thumbs up to let them know that their efforts are very much appreciated.  

Back To Top