How often do you get asked, “So what’s Montana’s top industry?” What would be your answer?: tourism, mining, or even timber? The answer lies in Montana’s wide open spaces. The miles and miles of ripening crops, and the acre after acre of grazing livestock attest to the fact that agriculture is Montana’s top industry. Our farmers and ranchers consistently lead our economy with billions of dollars to impact the bottom line here. In 2015 alone, the ag industry generated a $4.6 billion impact. The value of crops in 2015 was nearly $2 billion, and livestock production topped $2 billion. Some of the largest cattle ranches in the nation are located right here in Montana. Wheat has been our Number One export, shipping mostly to Asia.

Our ag producers, unfortunately, face volatile prices in the markets, and experience devastating losses due to weather conditions. What farmers, ranchers, and Montana’s businesses need to improve our situation is to implement innovative solutions to these challenges. While technology in other sectors of the economy has gone through rapid change, including compliance with governmental regulations, the agricultural space is full of untapped potential. Just think of all the good we could do and all the mouths we could feed with innovations that make our agricultural system safer, more sustainable, and thriving. Farmers and ranchers know that the key to success in our constantly changing landscape is careful planning, and a willingness to respond when conditions change.

The Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s 2017 Young Ag Leadership Conference (YALC) in Helena on Oct. 13-14 boasted a roster of about 180 participants from Montana and Washington state. I had the opportunity to meet a number of motivated young adults, a number of whom are studying a myriad of subject matter to take advantage of 21st century best management practices related to the agricultural industry. The YALC agenda included marketing techniques; production sciences; irrigation and grazing methodologies; drought management; and financing strategies.

During the 65th Legislative Session, my main focus was, and continues to be, to help make the great state of Montana an even better, and more economically-friendly place to live and work. Nothing should make us more proud than helping our hardworking agricultural neighbors succeed and thrive.

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Yes, farmers these days face greater challenges, more variables in their business decisions, and a complex web of global connections that can be head-spinning. But that has never stopped farmers from going into the field day in and day out. The best way for Montanans to continue to support our incredibly valuable agricultural industry is for farmers, lawmakers, ranchers, and citizens to partner with scientists, ag-tech companies, and industry innovators to confront these problems head on for our mutual success.

By supporting the private sector and focusing our efforts on building up big innovative solutions, Montana can continue to be in the forefront in agriculture for years to come.

Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston, represents House District 80 in the Montana Legislature. 

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