This week was certainly one for the history books.  Montana Farm Bureau celebrated its 100th birthday on February 13.  It was only fitting to celebrate our 100th birthday at the Capitol building; it took an act of the State Legislature and the signature of Governor Sam V. Stewart on Senate Bill 30 in 1919 to allow the formation of Montana Farm Bureau.  

Originally, Montana Farm Bureau was the volunteer, grassroots organization under Extension Services.  The legislature had to provide funding for more Extension Agents throughout Montana to help establish County Farm Bureaus.  The Farm Bureaus worked for the advancement of agriculture and home economics, the promotion of better understanding between citizens in town and country, and the development of a wholesome community life. 

We celebrated that rich heritage with Governor Steve Bullock issuing a proclamation celebrating Tuesday, February 13, 2019 as the official Montana Farm Bureau Federation day.  Montana Farm Bureau was also honored during the floor sessions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.  It’s a fantastic time to be a member of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation!

SB 206, Revise the labeling, marketing and advertising of livestock and poultry products

Sponsored by Senator Al Olszewski, (R) SD 6, Kalispell

Not to be confused with Country of Origin Labeling, SB 206 proposes to make retailers throughout Montana responsible for posting placards detailing country of origin information.  The bill imposes fines and potential jail time for retailers, often family-owned Montana businesses, who can’t comply.

Montana ranchers and beef producers care deeply about developing and growing consumer confidence and trust.  We see it as a key goal in helping an ever growing urban demographic understand why we’re so passionate about our agricultural and rural lifestyles and to help them understand what goes into producing the food they eat.  This bill does nothing to help us further that mission.  In fact, it enforces very negative repercussions for business owners who can’t find origin information that likely isn’t readily available to them to begin with.

Montana Farm Bureau supports Country of Origin Labeling that is beneficial to the U.S. livestock producer.  In order to accomplish that, we need to have this conversation on a national level.  Of additional concern, is the extensive legal note that accompanied SB 206.  If passed, this bill puts the State of Montana in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and may open us up to expensive litigation.

Montana Farm Bureau opposed SB 206. This bill doesn’t successfully or economically reach the end goal of providing more information to consumers, nor can we guarantee this will increase the demand for beef products.  

HB 286, Review water right laws related to state water claims

Sponsored by Rep. Alan Redfield (R) HD 59, Livingston

This bill clarifies that the state of Montana does not have an ownership interest over privately held water rights derived from a well or developed spring located wholly on private land for use on state land in connection with a state land lease.  Why is this clarification needed?  Well, in the last year the Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) has started claiming partial ownership of state land lessee’s private water rights if the water is diverted onto state land.  If the state government taking couldn’t be worse, the state does this without any due process.  Lessees simply receive a notification from DNRC that the state is now a co-owner of their water right that has been diverted, developed, and perfected on their private land.

For years, landowners like our farming and ranching members have chosen to manage their land and the land they lease in the most productive, sustainable manner possible.  For some, that meant diverting water from their well or developed spring (that they paid for) onto their state lease.  Landowners made these decisions under the assumption that their water right was protected.   Were landowners made aware that the state would lay claim to a portion of their water, they likely wouldn’t have diverted water onto their leased land.  We see this as not only an extreme violation of private property rights, but also a disincentive to utilizing water on state-owned lands.  

Farm Bureau made multiple attempts during the interim to resolve this issue with DNRC to no avail; hence, the introduction and support of HB 286.  

HB 332, Require county approval to relocate bison

Sponsored by Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R) HD 27, Fort Benton

This is not a new conversation to Montana Farm Bureau or the legislative body. HB 322 allows county commissioners to approve or disapprove the transfer of bison into their county.   The bill outlines a specific set of criteria that a county commission may use to approve or deny the translocation of bison into their county. 

Included in the criteria are requirements that the animal is certified as brucellosis-free, the translocation of bison does not threaten public health, safety or welfare and the commission finds the relocation is consistent with their county’s growth policy.  Of important note is the provision in the bill exempting any qualified tribal entity from these requirements.

Montana Farm Bureau supported this bill.  We believe in local control and HB 332 provides an avenue for more input and decision making by local authorities.  We believe a local government should have the final input on any translocation plan; they are the most accurate authority on whether or not the translocation of bison will be a benefit or detriment to their communities and rural economies.