The goal of adjourning and 65th Montana Legislative Session by Good Friday may have been too good to be true. Indeed, Montana’s lawmakers will be coming back for one more week after the holiday.

But here in the second-to-last week, we had some good days for Montana agriculture. Montana Farm Bureau members supported the appointment of members to two important agriculture boards. Nina Baucus, Wolf Creek; Susan Brown, Belgrade; and Ed Waldner, Chester, were each re-appointed to their positions with the Department of Livestock, returning good experience to that governing body. They’ve worked through a lot of tough issues in the past two years, and with director Mike Honeycutt at the helm, they’re moving in a positive direction. Congratulations to these Montana ranchers, and thank you for your service to our industry.

Seth Wilson from Missoula and James Cross, Kalispell, were re-appointed to their positions on the Livestock Loss Board. Doreen Gillespie of Ethridge was appointed as a new member. Again, these are Montana ranchers who are working to serve our industry and their fellow producers with a very important job – kudos to them.  

Senate Bill 155: Prohibit local government regulation of agriculture and vegetable seeds.

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang (R) SD 17, Malta. Amendatory veto by Governor Bullock passed by the Senate Wednesday, April 12. Now headed to the House for another vote.

As we’ve covered, Senate Bill 155 would prohibit local government from regulating agricultural seeds and gives that authority solely to the Montana Department of Agriculture. It protects farmers and ranchers from a potential patchwork of regulation, and creates consistency between Montana’s state seed and fertilizer laws. This bill is a proactive, positive measure that protects property rights, provides consistency and helps preserve and protect our ag industry. 

The Seed Bill passed the House and the Senate with overwhelming bi-partisan support. This week, Governor Steve Bullock gave it an amendatory veto, requesting to strike the phrases “notification of use, registration, labeling, and marketing” from the bill. This means the bill must now go back through for another vote on the House and Senate floors before going back to the Governor for his final approval. It already re-passed the Senate floor with an encouraging 42-7 support vote and will now have to pass the House again.

With this amendment, a county or city government could potentially require a farmer to register the types of seed he plants, provide a specific label or post a sign or provide notification of the use of certain seeds. While it’s not ideal, the bill still provides the meat of its original intent: the protect farmers from having their cultivation decisions dictated on the whims of local, non-agriculturally based governing bodies. While the amendments Governor Bullock added are not ideal, they do still get this important, proactive law on the books and set a pro-agriculture precedence in our state’s policy.

No doubt, now is not the time to sit back and think the work is done on this one. We need farmers and ranchers in the field to contact the Governor and remind him how important regulatory consistency, private property rights and proactive protections are to the state’s No. 1 industry. The Seed Bill accomplishes all of this. You can call the Governor and leave him a message through the Capitol Switchboard: (406)444-4800. 

House Bill 339: Revise laws related to exempt appropriations of water

Sponsored by Rep. Carl Glimm (R) HD-6, Kila. Passed the Senate on third reading Tuesday, April 11.

We have two important exempt well bills still alive: one that works well for agriculture, developers and the preservation of our natural resources, and one that does not. Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy supports House Bill 339 for its collaborative, conservation-driven approach to limiting exempt wells. 

As you may recall, an exempt well isn’t subject to the typical permitting requirements of the Department of Natural Resources, as they are limited to 10 acre feet of water a year and pumping less than 35 gallons per minute. Exempt wells are often used by the development community for subdivisions. Agriculture also utilizes exempt wells, mostly for stock water and individual domestic wells. We have serious concerns regarding the density and concentration of these wells and the impacts that has on senor water right holders and irrigation. The more holes we poke in the ground, particularly in high-density areas, the more risk we assume that we’re going to deplete this incredibly valuable resource.

House Bill 339 utilizes requirements on well spacing and differentiates between open and closed basins in Montana to protect existing senior water right holders while allowing opportunity for development. In a closed basin, where all surface water has been appropriated, this bill would require 660 feet between exempt wells and any other well or developed spring. In an open basin, where surface water is still available for appropriation, there must be 330 feet between exempt wells and any other well or developed spring.

We think 339 is the best solution for agriculture water users, the development community and the conservation of our natural resources.

Senate Bill 248 is also still alive – it utilizes the family transfer process to allow an exempt well to be drilled every time there is a family transfer While that may sound like an OK idea, it doesn’t address the primary concern of how to limit the number and density of exemptions. Farm Bureau member policy opposes this in favor of the solution presented in House Bill 339. 

Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 930-2299 or Nicole Rolf is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.