I can’t imagine Montana without agriculture. It’s what makes Montana the last best place, with our rolling rangeland and fields of grains, all under the big sky. Agriculture is Montana, plain and simple. It’s been a fundamental part of our state throughout our history.
Every year people celebrate agriculture on National Ag Day on March 15th. I believe, however, we should celebrate agriculture every day. It’s the farmer and rancher up before sunrise warming up the tractor or tending to a sick animal, among other jobs, so we have healthy, safe, affordable food to feed our families. It’s the producer working long hours, not for acknowledgement or a whole heck of a lot of money, but because it’s their life and passion - growing food, raising animals and caring for the land.
Agriculture has had a fairly good run the last few years – since 2012, the state’s agricultural sector has grown by about 25 percent, or one billion dollars, up to $5.275 in production value. It’s a testament to the high-quality, diverse products our farmers and ranchers produce. Just like other commodities, prices for grains have slipped and we are going to have to tighten our belts a little this year. But we are still in one of the strongest cattle markets in recent history, harvested a record sugar beet and pulse crop, and have low fuel costs. With continued investment, diversification, and support of the industry, I am confident agriculture will continue to be stronger than ever.
Since taking office, I have been focused on growing all sectors of Montana’s economy and made historic investments in agriculture. We passed $15 million in research funding for the Montana University System with the first two grants funding important agricultural research at Montana State University. The grants will fund Montana specific precision agricultural techniques using laser and optics technology being developed in Bozeman to boost yields and increase efficiency, while the other will research pulse rotations into wheat fallow ground and its effect on soil health. Both projects should be beneficial to Montana agriculture.
Working with agriculture legislative leaders last session we invested over $20 million in our Agricultural Experiment Stations and extension services, $60,000 in the Wool Lab, and $125,000 in the Montana State Seed Lab because of their importance to the industry. We also created the Invasive Species Advisory Council and funded a statewide weed coordinator to help prevent the spread of noxious weeds and invasive pests. We accomplished all this while investing in education, freezing college and university tuition, cutting taxes for every business in the state, and balancing the budget with over $300 million in rainy day funds. Our work is paying off with unemployment at four percent, 10,000 new jobs added in 2015, and strong wage growth. As a result, economic forecasters are predicting continued growth across Montana’s economy in the year ahead.
We must remember that agriculture plays an important role as stewards of the land, and farmers and ranchers know best the value of protecting and preserving their land. A one-size fits all regulation from Washington, D.C. isn’t the answer. By leading in developing the sage grouse initiative with producers, businesses, and government, we found a solution that prevented their listing. By working together, we can find Montana solutions. My administration will continue to challenge and stand up against undo federal regulations and policies that hurt Montanans.
We know that agriculture is Montana and you should know that you have a partner in the Governor’s Office working every day to promote, advocate and invest in agriculture. Today, tomorrow, and every day look around and think of all the things that are made possible because of agriculture. Montana wouldn’t be the same without it.