Zach Weimortz: From California to Montana—a look at agriculture and consumer relations
People in Montana generally don’t think about growing pistachios unless they’re buying a small bag of them at the grocery store. Zach Weimortz has a lot of knowledge about the tasty pale green nut. He hails from a small family farm in northern California where his grandfather was first to grow them in his county.
“That’s where I was born and got my passion for agriculture. My grandfather passed away when I was in high school, so other than being in FFA, I had some disconnect from agriculture. I wanted to stay in the industry so I majored in Crop Science at California Polytechnic State University/San Luis Obispo and managed the school farm.”
After graduation, Weimortz headed to Montana where he worked as an agronomist for Town & Country Supply. After four years, he took a position managing sales for a fertilizer manufacturer, Montana Sulphur & Chemical Company. His wife, Megan, who had also attended Cal Poly found a job with World West Sire Services in Laurel. Although the couple live on a ranch near Edgar and help with the cattle, they don’t ranch per se.
“Even though I’m removed from farming myself, I stay involved in agriculture by working closely with famers, as well as being able to continue my passion for farming through Farm Bureau,” Weimortz said. As a fertilizer dealer, “I often had conversations regarding organic farming, pesticides and fertilizer.”
“In my opinion, neither [organic or conventional farming] is better than the other. What I always ask first is whether it’s sustainable and what makes sense economically. There are good and bad practices for both,” Weimortz said. “It’s important to realize the value of the sustainability. Organic produce and crops are not necessarily better for you. There are several labeled organic pesticides on the market but some of them have been deemed too toxic to use in the United States. A lot of people don’t realize that.”
He stressed the importance of being sensitive to consumer demands. “Personally, when I have a discussion, I remind myself that it’s an open conversation. It’s better to involve someone in in the discussion than just telling them something. Understand why they believe what they do and figure out where that belief came from. I have knowledge from my background and education and I have a different outlook than those who are disconnected from agriculture. Farmers and ranchers are the two percent who understand what agriculture is like. If we don’t educate the public, they are only hearing one side.”
Megan was managing the poultry farm at Cal Poly when California voters passed Proposition 2; requiring farmers to extend their cage size for chickens. “That put a lot of California farmers out of business. The general public didn’t actually realize that would happen. What I think Montana really has going for it is its smaller communities. I feel people in small towns communicate better and think about issues before they make any regulations. In California, people make changes based on emotional decisions and don’t think about who they are affecting.”
Weimortz believes the challenges young farmers are facing is financial; it’s hard to make a living and face lifelong debt. “Some people have gone back to the farm after the older generation has retired. My fear for them is not being adaptable and able to fix the newer equipment. The new equipment coming out is so integrated in technology, nobody but a trained technician will be able to fix it. There is the challenge of less and less farm ground, as well, so it’s harder and harder to grow your business.”
Although Weimortz cites that his age group is “lazy”, they’re efficient. “Using technology in agriculture is a good tool to improve what we’re doing. Precision agriculture will change the way you think about applying fertilizer or other crop inputs. You can see what you’re saving and what ground is productive and you can put your money where you get the best return. We have become more efficient and we are able to grow twice the yield as we did 50 years ago on half the land.”
The couple joined Carbon/Stillwater County Farm Bureau in 2018. Weimortz produces the county newsletter and is currently chair of the county YF&R Committee. “I haven’t been a member long but it’s a great organization to connect me with different generations and I’ve learned so much from people with different backgrounds. We all have the same passion but different skill sets. We are able to recognize that everyone is valuable and work for the greater good to support each other.”
Article originally published in the 2019 Summer Spokesman
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