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There are issues certain to surface each Legislative session in Montana, and this week was an onslaught of many of those familiar themes wrapped in new packages for the 2017 session. We dealt with bison, animal confiscations, water and regulations.
As we approach the transmittal deadline next week, bills are starting to get pushed through and the pace is moving more quickly, which means we all need to being paying close attention to these issues that matter most to Montana agriculture.
Sponsored by Rep. Willis Curdy (D) HD 98, Missoula. Heard in House Agriculture Committee Thursday, Feb. 16.
In 1956, there were 124,000 livestock herds affected by brucellosis nation-wide. In 1992, that number was down to 700. Today, that number is in the single digits (according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), thanks to an aggressive push by the livestock industry to eradicate the disease.
Reservoirs of the disease remain in wildlife populations in the greater Yellowstone area, so while the livestock industry has worked hard to nearly eliminate brucellosis, the threat remains. The bison population in the Greater Yellowstone Area is approximately 50 percent positive for brucellosis.
House Bill 419 would remove the requirement that bison coming out of Yellowstone National Park and the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) must be certified brucellosis free before they can be sold or transferred to another entity. This bill would allow the moving and transfer of Yellowstone National Park bison before they are declared brucellosis free. This poses a major disease threat to the state of Montana.
Montana hasn’t had an infection outside the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) since it was implemented a decade ago, which is the only reason our state has maintained its brucellosis-free status. Losing that status would have a severe economic impact on live animal markets and beef export markets. Brucellosis is a very serious disease for livestock, wildlife and humans. This bill is simply unacceptable, unscientific and reckless.
Sponsored by Sen. Nels Swandal (R) SD 30, Wilsall. Heard in Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Feb. 16.
There aren’t any individuals or organizations who feel more passionately against animal cruelty than agriculturalists. Farmers and ranchers care for and respect animals with great reverence; their livelihood depends on it.
While this bill seeks to provide a way to pay for the care of animals that have been confiscated due to cruelty claims, we don’t see it as a solution to the problem it was created to address, and it also comes with negative consequences for livestock and working animal owners.
Senate Bill 203 would allow animals to be seized by law enforcement when an accusation of animal cruelty is made. It requires the owner of the seized animals to post a renewable 30-day bond to pay for the care of the animals. If that bond cannot be paid, the ownership of the animals is forfeited to the county.
While we understand and sympathize that these cases can be costly to the counties they are being tried in, it doesn’t appear this law would do anything more to truly remedy that situation. What it would do, however, is take away an individuals’ due process.
This means that if someone who is unfamiliar with healthy, normal animal husbandry practices makes an unfounded accusation, under this law, an individual’s animals could be confiscated before the owner is proven guilty. This bill does include a provision that excludes cattle, sheep and swine, but there are other animal species not named, including chickens, goats, guard dogs, etc. This provision could be stricken at any time in the future, which would open the door to dangerous takings of private property.
There are better ways this could be done that would truly protect animal welfare and lower the counties’ risk for financial burden, such as requiring a speedy trial so animals would be in custody for a shorter time, or allowing a lien being placed on a convicted guilty party’s private property. Farm Bureau member’s policy opposes this bill.
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang (R) SD 17, Malta. Passed out of Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Irrigation Committee. Will be heard on the Senate Floor on Monday, Feb. 20.
This is an important bill to Montana agriculture that needs support from the farmers and ranchers it will impact. It’s being referred to as “the seed bill,” and its intent is to make seed laws consistent with fertilizer laws in the state of Montana. Currently, only state government can regulate fertilizer in Montana and it makes sense for seeds to be similarly regulated.
It’s important to protect farmers and ranchers from a patchwork of regulations. It’s common for land ownership to cross multiple county lines, which means farmers and ranchers often do business in different communities. Having varying regulations from county to county would make farming and ranching in Montana very cost prohibitive and would threaten the vitality of our state’s largest industry.
Most importantly, Farm Bureau member policy recognizes the importance of conserving our most valuable natural resources: our land and water. While opponents have tried to argue we are limiting local control, MFBF strongly believes it should be the sole decision of the individual grower to decide what types of crops, growing methods and technologies best suite their situation. We support providing the freedom for farmers and ranchers to respond to market demands and not be held captive by burdensome local regulation.
Sponsored by Rep. Brad Hamlett (D) HD 23, Cascade. Heard in House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday, Feb. 15.
This bills would establish that a disruption of a means of conveyance is not an intent to abandon a water right. In laymen’s terms: if there is a flood and your irrigation ditch gets silted in or washed out, or head gate gets washed out or plugged, and the water user doesn’t get it cleaned for a while, it’s not an intent to abandon.
While it’s a well-intended bill, it’s also redundant to existing law, so Farm Bureau members’ policy does oppose this bill. We already have very clear abandonment statute in Montana water law, and this bill does not put any sideboards or criteria for a timeframe that one would have to exercise their water right to prove that it is not abandoned.
Under current abandonment statute, if a water rights holder stops exercising their right for a period of ten successive years, and there was water available for use during that time, that constitutes abandonment of that right. House Bill 432 would potentially take the teeth out of this abandonment statute.
This would be problematic if, for example, your neighboring property changes hands, and the new owners clean out a ditch that has been filled in for the past 30 years. They could claim that is was put out of use due to a disruption, and start running water down it without applying for a new water right. This would potentially be detrimental to current water right holders, and the legal means to deal with this issue already exists.
Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 930-2299 or email@example.com. Nicole is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.
By Rikki Murrill, Montana Farm Bureau regional manager
Often agricultural business is family business, even large scale farms and ranches are primarily family owned and operated. As the years have passed and farms and ranches have grown, the need for hired help has also grown. Employees can be the essence of the success of your agricultural business, but they can also be your biggest challenge.
We’ve seen the devastating videos of negligence and abuse in animal agriculture exploited by animal rights groups. How will you keep your agricultural business safe from such a crisis?
Evaluate your business: Do you have a hiring program? Do you have an employee handbook? Do you have documents to protect yourself and your business if an employee takes legal action?
Ashley Ellixson and Paul Goeringer, Extension Legal Specialists, from the University of Maryland remind us that “the best defense is a good offense” when it comes to managing employees and protecting your business.
In order to ensure successful future for your business is to maintain a proactive approach and to be prepared with appropriate reactions to crisis if necessary. In most instances, the business has been in the family for years and change may not be the most comfortable topic. Developing or improving hiring practices is not easy, but your business will benefit from it.
This blog post was based on a workshop held at the 2017 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention and Trade Show in January 2017. Become a Montana Farm Bureau member today to join in on these excellent educational opportunities: www.mfbf.org/.
With only two weeks until the 2017 Montana Legislative transmittal deadline, the pace at the Capitol in Helena is quickening. By the week of Feb. 27, all bills that are going to continue to have life and a shot at making it into law must have passed through their initial committee and house process.
Some bills we’ve been following have already failed or flourished. House Bill 96, which would have allowed for a free elk license for landowners who provide free public elk hunting, died on the House floor on Feb. 7.
Sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33 / Malta. Heard in House Agriculture Committee Tuesday, Jan. 24.
You may recall that House Bill 256 proposed to add criteria to the definition of what constitutes a legal electric fence. We reported on this bill earlier and noted that Montana Farm Bureau lobbyists requested a few amendments regarding the spacing of posts. The sponsor heard our request and amended the bill to read that posts are required to be an average of 50 feet apart over the span of the fence.
There were a few additional amendments and the bill was passed out of the House Agriculture committee. It sailed through the House on a vote of 99 to 1 and has been referred to the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation committee. No hearing date has been scheduled yet.
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang (R) SD 17, Malta. Heard in Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Irrigation Committee Thursday, Feb. 9.
Senate Bill 155 would prohibit local government from regulating agricultural seeds. It protects farmers and ranchers from a potential patchwork of regulation, and creates consistency between Montana’s state seed and fertilizer laws. This bill is a proactive, positive measure that protects property rights, provides consistency and helps preserve and protect our ag industry.
Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy firmly supports this measure for a number of reasons. Property ownership in Montana often spans county lines. This bill would prohibit counties from creating a patchwork of regulations that may be burdensome and cost prohibitive to agriculturists. It also protects property rights, leaving it to the choice of the farmer and rancher to make the best business decisions for themselves and their resources.
Fertilizer is already regulated at the state level and it makes sense for seeds to be as well. Consistency in seed and fertilizer laws creates efficiencies for agri-businesses and avoids added burden and confusion for farmers and ranchers.
We would encourage farmers and ranchers to contact members of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee this week and urge them to vote yes on Senate Bill 155.
Sponsored by Rep. Becky Beard (R) HD-80/ Elliston. Heard in House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tuesday, Feb. 7
Agriculture groups and individual ranchers in areas facing severe livestock depredation supported House Bill 367 this week. It creates the ability for individuals purchasing conservation licenses or combination licenses to voluntarily pay an extra $1 or more to be deposited into a state special revenue account
The department would then use the money collected to contract for wolf management with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, including but not limited to flight time, collaring, and lethal control of wolves. The use of these funds would be in addition to any funding paid by the USDA Wildlife Services.
Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Essmann, (R) HD-54, Billings. Heard in House Local Government Committee on Thursday, Feb. 9.
This was a bill presented to solve some specific issues involving unidentified roads within subdivisions, but as written, the potential impact reaches further than intended.
As initially written, House Bill 319 would allow as few as 10 landowners in a county to petition their county commissioners to designate an unidentified road in their county as a public road. The bill then establishes a process of notification and public hearings to determine if the road is public or private. If they received no evidence of it being a private road, they could automatically assume the road is public.
Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy opposed this bill as originally written, based on the automatic assumption that unidentified roads are public. While this may make sense in a subdivision, it is worrisome and unnecessary to put the burden of proof on a farmer or rancher to potentially have to prove all their private roads to be private.
The bill sponsor did present amendments in his opening to clarify this only applies to subdivisions, and an amendment that made it explicitly clear this law would only apply to roads within subdivisions and in no way can it apply to any portion of the road outside of a subdivision. The sponsor’s amendments addressed all of our concerns with the original bill. With these amendments in place, the bill no longer has a direct impact on farmers and ranchers outside of subdivisions. With that, Farm Bureau member policy would no longer have a stance on the bill as long as the sponsor’s amendments are added to the bill. If the committee adds the sponsors amendments during executive action on the bill, Montana Farm Bureau’s opposition will be withdrawn.
Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 587-3153 or email@example.com. Nicole is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.