Montana Farm Bureau President Hans McPherson hosted a roundtable meeting at his farm in Stevensville to discuss current agricultural issues and federal programs for agriculture with USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey and Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte. Also attending the July 13 event was Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Tom Watson and several local farmers and ranchers.

“This was such a great honor to have Under Secretary Northey and Representative Gianforte visit our family farm and talk about agriculture in Montana and in the Bitterroot Valley,” said McPherson. “We had an excellent gathering of 25 people including staff from the state and local Farm Service Agency (FSA) and NRCS, as well as a diverse cross-section of farmers and ranchers including four cattle producers, an ag bank lender, an apple farmer and two organic produce farmers”

Whether the farmers were talking about beef or apples, the most common concern was how vulnerable farmers and ranchers are to market disruptions. “We discussed problems that affect the entire food chain when there is a hiccup at any segment,” McPherson said. “For instance, when restaurants had to shut down due to COVID-19, it caused shock waves throughout the entire food industry; the same with the shutdown of beef processing plants.”

In addition to a lively roundtable discussion, the group took a tour of Bitterroot Valley where they saw how farms had successfully implemented the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

“Everybody agreed that young people who want to farm or ranch need to have a way to get into it,” McPherson said. “You can’t pay development prices for real estate. You can’t pay $10,000 per acre, run a cow on it and be successful.  We talked about how the FSA programs and different types of funding can especially help young people who want to get into agriculture. It was rewarding to have this great discussion at our McPherson Family Farm with this variety of leaders who care about agriculture in Montana.”

“I think it was important to bring USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey to Stevensville to sit down with Montana ag producers and the Montana Farm Bureau to figure out ways federal programs can work better for Montana,” said Congressman Gianforte. “As Montana’s number-one industry, ag touches virtually every community in our state, and it’s critical for federal officials to hear from folks on the ground who work the land to produce our outstanding ag products.”