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The Need to Grow Ag Processing in Montana

It comes as no surprise that Montana is a national, and international, leader in the production of agriculture products such as wheat, barley, and pulse crops, however, the majority of our products are shipped out of Montana in their raw state. A mere 9% of the agriculture production in Montana is processed in-state. This results in a major disconnect between our farmers and ranchers and the food that we put on our tables.

Problems Montanans Face in the Field and On Our Tables:

  1. Over 80% of the food in Montana must be imported because of the lack of processing facilities in the state.
  2. Our lack of “farm to table” philosophies leave farmers and ranchers exposed to the volatile nature of international commodity markets.

How We Can Fix the Disparities…and Grow:

A renewed focus on keeping our products in state, from raw material to finish goods, would benefit our agriculture community through the added value of processing in state and exporting our products as more than just a raw material.

Go with the Pulse!

“Pulse crops” are emerging as a viable substitute for traditional crops such as winter and spring wheat. While the wheat market continues to struggle, pulse crop prices are holding steady and are currently much more lucrative than wheat prices (not to mention the benefits they offer to the soil). Montana is continuing to be a national leader in the production of pulse crops.

Let Production Match the Products

Currently, Montana is the #1 producer of lentils and the #2 producer of peas. This emerging focus on pulse production has brought light to the issue of a lack of pulse processing facilities around the state. We see more and more elevators converting space to be used for pulse crops, but the storing and selling of the raw product could be enhanced even more through processing methods, such as fractionating (a process which concentrates starch and protein levels), bagging, or milling, all methods that provide added value to the raw product that our local farmers produce. These processed pulse crops could then go straight to local markets, such as restaurants, grocers, and schools.

Get Malted on Beer

Speaking of processing, malting is becoming more and more important as the growth of craft beer continues to be seen throughout our state and the nation. Not so surprising to the local beer lovers out there, Montana ranks 4th in breweries per capita and 6th in economic impact of the craft brewing industry. Our state has been a respected leader in the barley industry and continues to grow the highest quality barley year in and year out.

Keep It All Local

But, Montana currently only has one significant malting house that offers barley farmers access to markets along with malting capabilities all in one facility. There are many elevators that accept barley, however they then must ship the raw product away to be malted, thus removing our local product from local markets. Yellowstone County has one of the most concentrated areas of craft brewers, however, tragically, these brewers do not have access to local barley because of a lack of malting facilities. Brewers are forced to bring in barley from northern Montana, thus muddling the “local” feel of our craft beer.

Connecting the Dots, Farm to Table

Local ag processing not only connects our food to our farmers, it also provides those farmers with price premiums due to the added value in processing those products in state. For instance, the value of malted barley or bagged peas exceeds the value of those products in their raw state. Focusing on ag processing methods is a responsible way to bring benefits to both our local farmers and our local consumers.

If you would like more information about this topic, contact us.

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