Welcome to our newest guest blogging series from Farm Bureau members who represent Montana on national Issues Advisory Committees. Tom DePuydt serves as the president of the Phillips County Farm Bureau and the District 7 Director on the Montana Farm Bureau Federation Board.

I am Tom DePuydt, a third generation farmer and rancher from Saco, Montana. My wife Joy and I and my brother Brian and his family work as partners on Four D Farm & Ranch.  My son Kurt has recently returned to the farm and ranch. We grow wheat, peas, forage barley, alfalfa and raise cattle. Until the opportunity arose to come back to the family farm & ranch, I attended Northern Montana College. I received a Bachelor Degree in Diesel Technology with a minor in business and went on to work in ag mechanics before moving back to the farm & ranch.  As with many farms & ranches, we do much of our own repairs and really enjoy metal fabrication projects.

Over the last 25 years in agriculture, I have served on various boards, but I have recently narrowed them down to being active in my church and the Farm Bureau. The enthusiasm of several Valley County Farm Bureau members enticed me to get involved with the Valley County Farm Bureau.  While a member of Valley County, I was elected to the MFBF Board of Directors from District 7 covering Roosevelt and Valley Counties.  Shortly after, several Phillips County producers got together to start a new Farm Bureau Chapter in my home county of Phillips County where I now serve as the President.

Last year I was nominated to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s “Federal Lands Issue Advisory Committee.”  This committee is addressing issues including forest management, wild horse and burros management, the Antiquities Act, Wilderness designations, bison, sage grouse, multiple use, Endangered Species Act, Equal Access to Justice Act and more.  Rural residents certainly have our work cut out for us.  Committee members are dealing with many of the same issues, regardless of which state they are from.  It is important, as committee members, we keep up with changes or problems arising on federal lands. While serving on the committee, I have been able to meet many people and have started building some valuable connections with congressional staffers and others.

Federal Lands make up 30% of the state of Montana. Some counties have nearly a majority of their land base managed by government agencies.  These lands make up much of the rural areas in Montana and a dozen or so western states.  We don’t have the population numbers, or you could say the “votes” in DC or even in Helena to halt some federal agencies decisions that impact our livelihoods.

Many of the decisions or regulations that are being imposed on us will affect “multiple use” of these federal lands.  There is a movement by federal agencies to remove livestock grazing on these lands, for example.  These threats are coming at us in various forms, including the Endangered Species Act or the threat of listing a species and protecting its natural range and habitats. Federal land management agencies are constantly changing their management plans, which makes it difficult to keep up with.  Unchecked, these issues will have significant impact to agriculture and other industries.

We are seeing a total neglect by these agencies to our local input.  While they are required to get “public” input, “local” input is being completely ignored.  For example, the 2010 BLM’s “Treasured Landscape” paper gave its vision and goals for the next 25 years.  Their plans did NOT include coordination with “local” governments.  This was mentioned not just once, but four times within the document.

Exposing these problems and keeping our Senators and our lone Representative informed will require a continued effort.  Not only must all levels of Farm Bureau be working on the issues, but we must stand united with other organizations.  The Governors of the dozen or so western states must also stand united in the fight.

Our local input is under attack by these federal agencies.  “Multiple use” is under attack.  All which means agriculture in under attack.  This is what Farm Bureau is about, the local voice, your voice!  I encourage you to get involved.  Even if it is as simple as becoming a Farm Bureau member or upgrading your membership, every bit will help. Both the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF.org) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (FB.org) have great sources of news and information.

While I can’t over-emphasize the seriousness of some issues this year, with your help, with your faith and your prayers, we can make a difference.

About the American Farm Bureau Issues Advisory Committee:

Five Montana Farm Bureau members have been selected to serve on the American Farm Bureau Issues Advisory Committees (IAC).  This is the second year for the IAC programs, which have been changed from the previous commodity committees.

The IAC was formed so membership would have substantial input in refining and implementing AFBF policy objectives.  IAC members work throughout the year talking with the media to helping develop comments on regulations, giving testimony at Congressional hearings and providing direct input to the resolutions process, among other services to their fellow farmers and rancher.