Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention Features Experts on Pulse Crops, Drones & the farm economy

Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention Features Experts on Pulse Crops, Drones & the farm economy

October 27, 2016

Lyndsay Bruno, Communications Director

Office: 452-6406; Cell: 788-8777



Montana Farmers Union

Annual Convention Features Experts on Pulse Crops, Drones & the farm economy


 Great Falls, MT ( Oct. 26, 2016) – This past weekend Montana Farmers Union held its 101 annual convention in Great Falls at the Best Western Heritage Inn. The weekend was packed with workshops on drones, pulse crops, water rights, pesticide management and keynote speeches by Dr. Joe Outlaw and Eric McElvenny. Elected officials also spoke to attendees including Congressman Ryan Zinke, Senator Jon Tester, Governor Steve Bullock and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau.

Dr. Joe Outlaw of Texas A & M painted a realistic picture of the farm economy and gave some advice concerning the Farm Bill. He encouraged producers to fight for Title 1 payments and to work with elected officials to get a start on the Farm Bill as soon as possible.

Friday afternoon featured a value added Ag business panel featuring Laura Garber with the Montana Poultry Growers Co-op, David Oien with Timeless Seeds and Brianna Ewert, Farm to Institution Coordinator with Lake County Community Development. “The goal is to improve access to nutritious and fresh foods to our kids, hospitals and other areas,” said Ewert. “This path will lead to expanding markets for our farmers and ranchers.”

Laura Garber talked about the new poultry processing plant in Hamilton which is housed on her farm near Hamilton.”This cooperative is extremely valuable for poultry growers,” said Garber. “It’s a great way to provide local food to local people.”David Oien is a third-generation farmer. Timeless Seeds became known nationwide for their trademarked Black Beluga lentils. Oien talked about the facility, production of his products and the company’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.

On Saturday, Robert Blair who is referred to as the “Unmanned Farmer” and serves as VP of Agriculture for Measure, a Drone service company, shared his expertise on ways a farmer can use drone technology to reduce inputs and increase productivity. “There is a lot of knowledge on the farm and we need to harvest that and use that information and knowledge. When we take a look at technology we need to learn, adapt and set goals.”

Blair described the process of using drones and what the technology can tell us. “Looking at images from a manned aircraft is completely different. With drone technology we layer the images. Rather than learning about problems when driving into the field we can use drone technology to do preemptive scouting for us. We can ask ourselves: what can I do differently? Did I turn on my corners too fast when digging out the seed, do I need to slow down when seeding?”Blair also talked about the next Farm Bill and how it needs to better address the use of drone technology including a break for producers who incorporate the technology to reduce risk. He also talked current regulations and informed attendees that if a farmer uses a drone to check their field they must have a drone pilot license.

Also on Friday was a panel on pulse crops including representatives from BNSF, CHS, the Montana Pulse Advisory Committee, the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, and a researcher from Montana State University. Kim Murray, Chair of the Montana Pulse Advisory Committee says the largest market of pulse crops is the ingredient market right here in the United States. “As millennials in this country start to increase their consumption and support the market it will make a tremendous difference in consumption and demand,” said Murray.

Montana is the number one producer of pulse crops, but many producers are just dipping into the market. Murray’s recommendation to producers is to start with yellow peas. He cautions that if a producer is a grain farmer, the key to success is being very familiar with their chemical regimen to reduce risk. “One of the reasons why I recommend starting with yellow peas is the marketing side of yellow peas is easier and the value is high. Green peas are a little harder. If you get a little braver try lentils, perhaps chickpeas. The risk is greater with chickpeas, but so is the reward.” However he warns with this crop that it will require almost daily monitoring and spraying – up to three times a year which can be a significant cost.

Ron de Yong, Director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, moderated the panel. The department has been a huge proponent of pulse crops in the state. “As far as the pulse crop market there is so much opportunity for producers to profit,” said de Yong. “If we tap into the ingredient market there is a lot of potential and the future is bright.”

Retired marine, triathlete Eric McElvenny delivered an inspiring and courageous keynote address at Saturday’s luncheon. McElveny shared his story of going from having his right leg amputated below the knee after being wounded on his third tour in Afghanistan to competing in a triathlon in Hawaii. “The power of a positive attitude can get you through anything,” said McElvenny.

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union, addressed the crowd Saturday night at the Members’ banquet. Johnson gave an overview of NFU’s programs and also addressed the Farm Bill. He talked about trade and corporate consolidation.

New MFU officers were also elected by membership and announced Saturday night at the banquet. They are as follows: Rollie Schlepp will serve as vice president for another term; William Downs will serve District 5; Erik Somerfeld will serve as Director for District 2; Jan Tusick was re-elected to serve District 6, Ben Peterson will serve District 5 & 6 At Large, John Wendland as Doorkeeper and Jeff Bangs as Conductor.

Delegates were also selected to represent MFU at the National Farmers Union Annual Convention in March. Representing the board will be: Jan Tusick, William Downs and Erik Somerfeld. Representing membership will be Eric Bergman, Barb Mothershead and Charlotte Kelly.

The night concluded with the Centennial Farm & Ranch honors. A subsequent press release will be distributed with details on each of the three families honored.

A special thank you to all our event sponsors: Farmers Union Industries, Farmers Union Insurance, Farmers Union Enterprise, BNSF, KRTV/MTN; Cherry Creek Radio, KFBB, Northern Ag Network, 2J’s, Ameriprise, First Interstate Bank, Malteurop, Mountain View Co-op, NW Farm Credit Services, Stockman Bank and Tintina Resources.


elected-officers-edited                                                                                                                                                                  -30-

Officers: left to right: John Wendland, Ben Peterson, Rollie Schlepp,

Erik Somerfeld, Jan Tusick, William Downs, Jeff Bangs & Roger Johnson


Montana Farmers Union is a statewide grassroots organization working for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through conferences, scholarships and other educational opportunities as well as legislative representation and support for producer-owned co-ops.


2023 Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention

October 27, 2023 - October 28, 2023
Heritage Inn, Great Falls MT