The Montana State FFA Officer Team and the Stevensville FFA Chapter agronomy team recently completed the Montana FFA West Coast Commodity Tour. This annual tour provides participants the opportunity to view different aspects of agriculture.
2019-20 Montana State FFA Officers include: Parliamentarian Andrew Ferret, Broadwater FFA; Sentinel Kyla Andres, Missoula FFA; Reporter Anna Slivka, Winifred FFA; Treasurer Andee Baker, Park City FFA; Secretary Emily Evens, Fairfield FFA; 2nd Vice President Isaac Sponheim, Richey FFA; 1st Vice President Lucas Oelkers, Culbertson FFA; President Caroline Roeder, Choteau FFA; and State Advisor Jim Rose.
Members of the Stevensville FFA agronomy team include: Hunter Rodrick, Kylie Rhoades, Michael Zielinski and advisor, Josette Hackett.
The adventure started out officially on Monday, Aug. 5, in Wenatchee, Wash., where the participants toured Stemilt Growers, a family owned tree-fruit growing, packing and shipping company. While there, Montana FFA members saw an apple packing and a cherry packing line, something not readily witnessed in Montana.
“We learned that they can store some varieties of apples for up to a year. The ones they were processing while we toured the facility were coming out of almost a year’s worth of storage,” explained Caroline Roeder.
Continuing on with the fruit production theme, the group was presented with an opportunity to tour Ocean Spray Craisin manufacturing in Markham, Wash.
“One of the things you don’t realize when they make Craisins is they actually take all of the juice out. They use some of the juice in other juice products and then some of it they use to re-hydrate the Craisins,” Roeder said.
The group learned even more about cranberry production as they toured a small, six-acre family cranberry farm. It was eye-opening to Roeder to learn how labor-intensive it is to harvest the cranberries. The particular farm they visited was in the business of fresh berries, so they dry-harvested their cranberries, which requires a specialized machine to pick the berries from the tree. They did not flood their orchards to harvest the berries as is traditionally thought off when it comes to cranberries.
The culmination of this grand West Coast adventure was Portland where the Montana FFA group first toured the United Grain Terminal. This part of the tour hit closer to home for some because they learned all about what happens to U.S. and even Montana grown wheat right before it is shipped off to international markets. The group saw a vessel in the process of being loaded while touring the United Grain Terminal, so they experienced firsthand just how massive those cargo boats can be.
“We learned a record grain year for Montana is 49 bushel an acre and it would take 50,000 acres worth of wheat to fill an average sized vessel,” said Roeder.
Tours of the Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) later in the day shed light onto more of the business and marketing end of U.S. wheat production. The WMC works to bridge the gap between wheat growers and consumers. It also serves as an educational platform where producers, millers and end-product manufacturers can gain more knowledge to better market their product.
The Montana FFA Group was treated to a crash-course at the MWC while they learned how Montana wheat ties into the bigger picture. They played trivia, watched a cracker manufacturing line and saw scientists conduct a falling numbers and gluten strength test on wheat.
After the WMC, it was time for the group to start the long trek home, but they did it with more knowledge and a broader perspective of agriculture. Roeder reflected on the trip saying it was one for the memory books all the way around.
"The Commodity Tour is important because it gives our students and Officer Team an idea of how big agriculture is outside of Montana,” Roeder stated.
As the saying goes, agriculture is about more then sows, cows and plows and those who went on the West Coast Commodity Tour saw first hand just how diverse the United States ag industry really is.