MFU members from across the state came together to celebrate the 103rd annual convention at the Holiday Inn Great Falls. The conventions theme of Moving Agriculture forward featured educational workshops on estate and business planning, cattle handling, food safety and more The event kicked off with a cattle handling workshop at the Montana ExpoPark led by stockman Curt Pate. Friday’s keynote speaker Keith Horton of Cargill talked a- bout the company’s Omega- 3 trials in the Golden Triangle.
Canola Oil Omega- 3
The Omega-3 Canola project uses algae genes to produce omega-3 canola oil. The salmon industry has been asking fish feed suppliers to find an alternative for their DHA needs because of lack of availability. The Montana project is helping to fill that gap with 160 acres of Canola making enough to replace 1.7 million lbs. of feeder fish. “The last thing we want to do at Cargill is interrupt the commodity Canola market,” said Horton. “We want to make sure it’s
closed looped and that the grain winds up in Cargill’s hands on a fish farm and doesn’t end up in China or the EU where the entire commodity canola market will be upset.” Horton went on to talk about Montana’s ideal growing conditions for the crop, the company’s test trials and potential for Canola in Montana. Currently the company has one commercial hybrid that is irrigated but has plans to offer a dryland variety in the next couple of years. The company’s target is 500,000 acres in Montana.
After the luncheon, the event shifted to policy work resulting in action plans on the Farm Bill,Industrial hemp. There was also policy action on imitation meat and property tax reform, among other items. Policy adopted at the 2018 convention will soon be listed on MFU’s website and included in the 2019 policy book.
Colter DeVries of Billings served on the policy committee. Colter said the experience of being part of the process is an important one. “It is a great way to meet other members,” said Colter. “We can all come together from differing views, beliefs and businesses for common interests and to work on issues that benefit everyone. Now more than ever there is a place for you in agriculture and within agriculture there is a place in Montana Farmers Union.”
FUE Leadership Program
Saturday morning at the Farmers Union Enterprise breakfast FUE Leadership couple Walter Schweitzer and Cindy Palmer shared their experience in the leadership program. Among the highlights of the program the couple attended the Minnesota Farmers Union State Convention, the National Farmers Union Convention in Missouri and the D.C. Fly-in. They talked about the many places the couple toured including a coal fire generation plant, a milling plant and much more. Palmer said her favorite part of the experience was meeting the other couples. “The first time we got together we were kind of nervous, but by the end of the first trip we couldn’t wait to see our new friends again.” “I definitely appreciate Farmers Union Enterprise,” said Schweitzer. “We had a lot of fun playing around with farmers from around the country.”
‘Fake Meat’ & Cattle Markets
Later that morning Jess Peterson with the United States Cattlemen Association provided an update on some of legislative priorities of the organization and discussed partnerships with the USCA and Farmers Union. “My passion has always been on working on Country-of-Origin Labeling done in 2008. I was really excited with the renegotiation with NAFTA that we could have gotten it in there. We need to keep bringing it up, keep working on it.” In addition he talked about hours of service and ‘fake meat.’ “There are emerging technologies, they are out there but they have to be very transparent,” said Peterson.
A main focus of the convention is recognizing youth leaders in the organization and hosting a keynote speaker intended to inspire our youth to continue with on the path of leadership. Videographer Riley Slivka of Winifred was the keynote for Saturday’s youth banquet. Slivka showed his short documentary “Along the Edge, A Montana Family Harvest Story,” at the luncheon. He explained his journey in film making and his reason for pursuing the project. “My goal is to connect people in agriculture through film,” said Slivka. Slivka is a student at MSU Bozeman and operates his own videography business, Agristudios. The luncheon also included youth awards and the welcoming of new officers to the board of directors. Rollie Schlepp was reelected as vice president; Eric Bergman, representing District 1 and Sig Rudie reelected to represent District 3 & 4 at-large Dr. Emily Meccage with MSU, who presented a workshop on forage management and nutrition, accepted on behalf of the university the Ralph Parker Memorial Scholarship check presented by Jim Parker.
Farm Bill Update
At each convention a representative from National Farmers Union presents on updates at the national level. This year Government Relations Representative Matt Perdue spoke on issues like the Farm Bill, trade and NFU’s work on the opioid epidemic. “As we have this Farm Bill debate, as we fight for some of these improvements in the Farm Bill, we really impress upon people that 2018 is nothing like 2013.”
Perdue identified 39 orphan programs no longer functioning after expiration of the Farm Bill in September including the Value Added Producer Grant, Farmers Market Local Foods Promotion Program, and the Organic Certification Cost Share, among others. “These programs are smaller programs in the Farm Bill, but are really important. The Farm Bill bucket, the money we had to work with this time, was because all these programs were set to expire anyway was 2.8 billion dollars less than the bucket we had in the last Farm Bill. This is kind of what happens each time and that is why this status quo Farm Bill approach is really concerning to us.”
Ryan Hughes of Alltech did a presentation on business planning for the farm followed by a presentation by Christy Clark and Jim Aurer with the Montana Department of Agriculture on mediation and estate planning. David Wise and Andrea Sarchet, also with the department, shared information on the Food Safety Collaborative with National Farmers Union.
Senator Jon Tester stopped by the event and talked about the Farm Bill and other issues of concern. “You guys know as well as I do in production agriculture how important this is. If we don’t have that safety net there we get impacted by a lot of things including weather, including things like trade agreements, insects and disease that that safety net is for. The Farm Bill is for food safety security and has worked for a number of decades.” He also stressed his disappointment in the lack of Country-of-Origin Labeling in the Farm Bill calling it a missed opportunity.
The event concluded with a panel on Industrial Hemp including panelists Laura Garber, a farmer in Hamilton; Colby Johnson, a hemp farmer and rancher in Conrad and Kirby Hancock, founder of Transformative Ecologies. Each panelist is utilizing the crop in a different way. They shared with the group their experiences with Industrial Hemp and what the future may hold for this emerging crop. Laura Garber grows two acres of hemp on her farm in Hamilton. “A goal on our farm is to educate and with our location so visible lots of people get to see it,” said Garber. “It’s a really good opportunity to destigmatize Industrial Hemp in the Bitterroot Valley and Montana in general.”Farmer Colby Johnson grows the crop near Conrad and is a partner in a local processing facility for CBD Oil.
“Marijuana and hemp might smell the same, but they don’t have the same properties I think that is the biggest challenge is educating people on the difference between the two. It’s been fun traveling around and telling people all the uses of it from foods, biodegradable plastics, clothes and CBD. There are a lot of opportunities and that is huge for Montana. Montana itself could be a leader in industrial Hemp.”
Kirby Hancock engineers hempcrete for building applications. Hancock sees Industrial Hemp playing a role in offsetting the effects of climate change. “Hempcrete can house people in a way that is not going to destroy the earth which I think Industrial Hemp can play a huge role in helping create a greener future for Montana.
Kelly Rutledge shared his thoughts on why the convention is important to attend. “It’s a time all farmers and ranchers can get together and know they are not alone, that we are united,” said Rutledge. He went on to identify price support and healthcare as two issues of particular concern to his area and family that Farmers Union has helped make priorities, but he stressed unity as the most important reason to belong to MFU.