Montana agriculture was center stage this week at the Capitol. In the midst of challenges, frustrations and sometimes fears for the future on a national scale, it is encouraging and important to recognize the support we have in our state for Montana’s No. 1 industry.
The theme for this year’s National Agriculture Week was “Food Brings Everyone to the Table,” and we sat around a lot of valuable, pleasantly crowded ‘tables’ this week.
We started the week celebrating a reception for Taiwanese trade representatives. Taiwan is Montana’s fifth largest trading partner. Director General Daniel Kuo-Ching Chen and Vice Consul Ting K.T. Chen from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office based in Seattle were welcomed kindly by leaders from several of our Montana agricultural organizations in a unified effort to foster this international relationship.
Taiwan loves our high-quality wheat, and they have a real interest in Montana beef, too. There is great potential in getting a trade office open in Taiwan again, and we look forward to continuing to foster this relationship to help Montana’s farmers and ranchers open up new trade opportunities.
The Department of Agriculture typically organizes a large lunch to celebrate National Ag Day, but COVID-19 restrictions had us take a different route. Many of our state’s agricultural organizations donated items to legislative gift bags to celebrate the abundance and diversity of Montana’s agriculture industry. We included Montana-made honey sticks from Yellowstone County Farm Bureau members Andy and Jodie Drange’s Drange Apiary.
We were proud to distribute and see “I Support Montana’s Farmers and Ranchers” lapel buttons all over Helena on Ag Day, too. A small number of Montana Farm Bureau members were able to be in Helena and at the Capitol to distribute them, and it is heartening to see so many of our top elected officials recognize the value of agriculture and agriculturalists to our state’s economic and social fabric.
A big highlight from the day was to help facilitate and host Governor Greg Gianforte on his Ag Day visit to the multi-generational Lake Farms, all of whom are Northwest Counties Farm Bureau members. This family seed potato farm and business is an impressive showing of innovation, stewardship and dedication in agriculture, and it was an honor to connect the Governor to one of our members to spend this special day on the farm. Later in the week, we gathered again with other Montana ag organizations for an agricultural round table with the Governor.
“Ag Week is critical to Montana,” Gov. Gianforte said in a video released the next day. “It’s our number one industry, and it’s a chance to celebrate our hard-working farmers and ranchers and what they do for our quality of life and for our economy.”
It was a pleasure to bring Montana Farm Bureau member together for a Virtual Calling on the Capitol on Ag Day, too. Farmers and ranchers from across the state tuned in from their own rural regions to hear insights from President of the Senate, Sen. Mark Blasdel and Speaker of the House, Rep. Wylie Galt, Senate Ag Committee Chair, Sen. Mike Lang and House Ag Committee Chair, Rep. Josh Kassmier.
These legislative leaders shared insights on important issues in the session, the climate of the session under a new administration and the importance of having agricultural voices represented in the hallways, in legislative seats and with relationship with farming and ranching constituents.
“While rural representation may have changed with redistricting, your presence in the hall and your presence in the legislature as far as what you do to provide for the state hasn’t,” Blasdel said.
“The few of us who have the agricultural background here need to go out and be willing to talk about what we do,” Galt said. “The good thing is we’re still well listened to and agriculture is well respected here for what it does for our state.”
Legislators and leaders answered candid questions from the group and offered thoughtful dialogue around some of the most important challenges farmers and ranchers face, including wildlife management, rural broadband connectivity, value-added agriculture, tax relief and more.
Department of Agriculture Director Mike Foster, Department of Natural Resources Director Amanda Kaster and Lt. Governor Kristen Juras all shared comments following a common theme: regulatory reform.
“We’re going to do a top to bottom review of every agency,” Juras said. “We’re going to be identifying and eliminated outdated or unnecessary regulations. We’re going to be looking at all the timeframes for permitting processes. One of the first directives will be for each of the agencies is to figure out how to get to yes or no more quickly.”
Kaster noted that her top three priorities as new director of the DNRC were regulatory reform – “improving government efficiency and cutting red tape,” – enhanced customer service and active grazing and forest management.
“It’s critical to bring more federal acres under treatments to prevent catastrophic wildfires so we can have healthier forests, improved wildlife habitat and bring back good paying Montana timber jobs,” Kaster said. “I’ve seen first-hand how impactful the agriculture and grazing community is in reducing fuel load, and I’m excited to incorporate a full range of tools here to promote active forest and rangeland management.”
Of course, we were also still following bills through the system and advocating on your behalf in committees and in the halls this week. We’ll be back with more legislative updates in next week. We hope reading these highlights from Ag Week in Helena allows you to take a moment to celebrate your hard work and efforts to feed the world, nourish your rural communities and care for the land, livestock and rural people. Your work and dedication to Montana agriculture was certainly noticed in Helena this week, and that’s worth celebrating!
For more legislative updates and details on these issues, follow our Live with Your Lobbyist broadcast each Friday at noon on our Montana Farm Bureau Facebook Page.
Nicole Rolf is the Senior Director of Governmental Affairs and a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole works closely with our Congressional delegation on national issues affecting Montana agriculture. Additionally, this is her seventh Montana Legislative Session, lobbying in Helena on behalf of MFBF members. She also works as the Eastern Montana Regional Manager. Nicole can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Cone is the Director of State Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation. This is Rachel’s first session lobbying on behalf of Montana Farm Bureau. Rachel is involved throughout the interim session to track how bills will come to the session. She also coordinates the MFBF Water Committee, the Resource Management, Environment and Technology Committee and the Livestock Committee in addition to being the Treasurer for the Farm Bureau PAC. Rachel can be contacted at email@example.com.
National Ag Week makes a splash in Helena
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