This story is funded in partnership with the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee
Bandel Farm, Floweree Montana
With Ed Bandel, farmer, dad, grandpa, husband and Montana Farm Bureau District 8 Director
Our farm is located north of Great Falls in the Golden Triangle. We grow mostly winter wheat, spring wheat and recently have started to grow field peas. Our wheat is used mostly for bread, with the majority exported overseas to India, China and Japan. Wheat grown in Montana’s Golden Triangle tend to have consistent quality and higher protein which sets it apart from hard red winter wheat grown the rest of our country.
Peas are a rotational crop to help break the disease and insect cycles that can occur when you plant the same crop year after year. Once the peas are harvested, they are shipped to China and used for snack food much like our potato chips.
We seed our winter wheat in September, with peas seeded either in late March or early April. Our spring wheat is planted later in April. All of our crops are harvested between July and August.
We have a family farm. My great grandmother homesteaded part of the farm 1915, so we’re 99 years on this place. I’m the fourth generation and my son, Jess, is the fifth generation to farm the homestead. We’re hoping our grandkids have the opportunity to make that choice if they wish to become the sixth generation farming here.
I know there’s a lot of talk about how great it would be if nobody used chemicals to grow and protect their crop, but we need those chemicals to be able to raise quality and quantity of food we do. If we didn’t have those available, food would be in short supply and much more expensive.
You may also have heard people talking about farms getting bigger. The reality is we need to. We personally have had to expand our farm. We have to because of the increase in our production per acre costs. Think of this: a combine now costs what it used to cost to buy a farm. Combines now are bigger and have a lot more technology, so they are now priced between $300,000 and $400,00. A combine in 1970 cost $17,000. You need to get bigger to absorb those costs.
One thing the public might not realize is how much time we spend marketing our grain. We don’t set our price, we have to take what is offered. This is all dependent on the world grain trade rates. Not only do we have to follow the grain market but we have to follow the fertilizer and fuel markets. If the price changes there, it can make a major difference. Whether I am buying or selling, marketing is a huge part of my day. My grandpa and father made their money by spending hours in the field. We make or break our business by what happens in the office. Wheat prices can fluctuate 50 or 60 cents a day—that can make or break your year.
One of the reasons I farm is because I get to be my own boss and there is a great sense of accomplishment when you harvest your crops and see the results of your labor. I’d say the real reward is since we have a family farm, we’re together. We spend a lot more time in our shop working on our machinery and spend time working around the yard. The kids and grand kids are with us. I feel privileged my family is part of my life even when I’m working.
Look for the animal care campaign billboards at the following locations: I-90 near Billings and Greycliff; Highway 191 south of Four Corners and Euclid Street in Helena. They feature Farm Bureau members with their livestock.
Casey Mott is no stranger to ranching, having been raised on a ranch in northeastern Utah. After college, he worked for a several large ranches, including the PK, The Padlock and Sunlight Ranch. Several years ago, Casey and his wife were able to buy land and start their own ranch in Custer, Montana, 55 miles east of Billings. They call their ranch the Nomad Cattle Company.
Mott says that his calling in life is to work cows. He loves the lifestyle, and especially working with the cattle and horses. (The Nomad Cattle Company uses horses for all of the ranch work, except feeding cattle during the winter which is done with a tractor.) The way his ranch operates is to have cattle on the ranch in the winter and for calving, and then ship them (haul them in specially designed cattle trailers pulled by semi-trucks) to summer pasture for six months, May 1 until October 1.
“Ranchers are grass managers,” Mott explains. “We don’t have enough grass in Custer to feed our cattle here all year and keep the land productive. In the winter, generally starting in December, we start feeding hay to the pregnant cows, or “heavies” as we call them. Our first-calf heifers (two year old female cattle who have never calved before) begin calving (calving is a term that describes “giving birth” or “parturition” in the bovine species) in early February, and our cows (three-year-old or older female cattle who have calved in previous years) begin calving in early March and end in late April. A lot of our time is spent checking the heifers and cows to make sure they are okay when giving birth; and when he is born, we give the calf a vaccination so he doesn’t get sick, just like people make sure their kids are vaccinated so they don’t get sick. We also give the calf an ear tag with his mom’s tag number so we know he belongs to her. That way if they get separated, we can help them get back together. In April, we brand our calves and in early May, we load them on a cattle truck that my brother owns, and start shipping the calves and their moms to summer pasture about 50 miles east of us. We put the bulls out with the cows the third week of May, and take the bulls out the third week of July. The cows and calves spend all summer on our summer lease pasture. In mid-October, we do what’s called pre-conditioning, which means the calves get another vaccination to make sure they stay healthy when they are weaned from the cows. Keeping our animals healthy is a top priority. We generally wean the last weekend of October (Halloween! HalloWEAN!) . The steer calves (castrated males) go to the sale in Miles City, and we select some of the heifers, or young females, to grow our herd. We keep them, and they will be bred when they’re a little more than a year old. They will have their first calf at two-years-old. We bring all of the mother cows home to our ranch in Custer and the cycle starts all over again.”
“That’s what so great about agriculture. It’s just a big cycle. The seasons play such a significant role in your life.”