The year of 2020 proved difficult for many associations, yet Montana Farm Bureau and 30 county Farm Bureaus continued to excel at reaching out to their members, helping their communities, working on agricultural advocacy and setting Farm Bureau policy for the upcoming year.

Advocacy and education play a large role in Farm Bureau.  The pandemic caused the cancellation of activities such as farm fairs, but that didn’t stop students from learning. Farm Bureau’s creative staff and members coordinated a virtual farm fair to bring educational ag-related topics directly into homes using cell-phone filmed videos of farmers and ranchers telling their stories. The Virtual Farm Fair featured 10 videos that were directed toward a fourth-grade learning level, but appropriate and fun for all ages—even for parents. Many members participated in the social media campaign #stillfarming #stillranching. Others sent in videos for the “Right This Very Minute” campaign, sharing information about daily work on their farms and ranches.

As the pandemic took hold and many businesses felt the pinch of not being able to open, the Montana Farm Bureau Foundation continued to help small businesses in rural areas with their $100,000 Community Centennial Initiative Grant. The funding helped with starting an EMT service, a brewery, a woolen mill, an irrigation service, and more. They also awarded 10 mini-grants of $1,000 each. Mini-grants were awarded for educational purposes including a fall festival with ag stations and a summer ag education program.

County Farm Bureaus donated more than $20,000 worth of scholarships to local students enrolling in college and generously donated $7000 to the Montana Food Bank Network when Hoofin’ it for Hunger, a Young Farmer and Rancher race to raise money for the MFBN, was cancelled. Counties continued their support of local 4-H and FFA programs by sponsoring awards and belt buckles as well and serving at the buyers’ dinners for the local market sale. In fact, 10 county Farm Bureaus awarded prizes for a variety of classes at their county fairs.

In addition, county Farm Bureaus stepped up with a variety of activities aimed to promote membership as well as educate others about agriculture in their areas. They helped sponsor a 4-H project parade for nursing homes, held presentations for Ag Week and Ag Safety Awareness Week, posted a video of harvest from a drone and read accurate ag books. Some counties handed out May Day baskets to new members during May Membership Month. Other counties have been working on local programs to connect ranchers with direct marketing materials, local processors and consumers.  One county was a sponsor for an inaugural fall festival, as well as helping urge a community college to start a collegiate YF&R chapter.

The business of Farm Bureau needed to continue despite cancellations of in-person meetings. Although Montana Farm Bureau cancelled its annual convention in Billings due to county and statewide restrictions, they were able to hold a hybrid delegate session; the delegate session is when county Farm Bureau members come together to discuss and vote on what will be Farm Bureau policy for 2021. The 10 district Farm Bureaus met in-person in small towns across the state from there they were able to connect to the Montana Farm Bureau and successfully vote on policy.

Agricultural producers had plenty of questions and concerns as the pandemic continued to close restaurants, cause a bottleneck in food processing and result in a drop in commodity prices. Montana Farm Bureau kept in close contact with Montana’s members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, advocating for the needs of farmers and ranchers. Congress passed legislation that provided relief to those affected by the pandemic, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which authorized CFAP and expanded Small Business Administration programs to farmers for the first time. Farm Bureau continued to communicate to its members about available help for mental health issues in Montana and nationwide. Farm Bureau called for an investigation into price volatility and discrepancies in regard to beef prices and served on American Farm Bureau’s Cattle Market Working Group to analyze and make recommendations to improve transparency and competition in the industry and increase market prices. MFBF was also instrumental in helping to develop a meat processing program at Miles Community College—a direct result to mitigate the shortage of processing capacity in the state.

Members stayed active with both in-person and virtual leadership opportunities like the MFBF ACE Program, participating in virtual advisory committee meetings, and virtually meeting to discuss issues and programs with state lawmakers, like the Promotion & Education Committee.

“Despite all of the challenges Farm Bureau and our members faced with pandemic concerns and restrictions, it was so admirable to see all of the creativity that kept our organization serving its members and advocating for agriculture,” said MFBF President Hans McPherson. “Instead of stepping back, they all forged ahead, which is what Farm Bureau is all about—being positive and resourceful.”