STEVENSVILLE, Mont. – It is not every day Washington, D.C., leaders have an opportunity to step away from their demanding political jobs, but Montana Congressmen Greg Gianforte and USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey got to do just that on July 13. The duo visited Hans McPherson’s farming operation located in Montana’s iconic Bitterroot Valley. McPherson currently serves as president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF).
Under Secretary Northey is head of Farm Production and Conservation within the USDA. This means entities like the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the National Recourse Conservation Service (NRCS) fall under his jurisdiction. According to McPherson, MFBF works closely with both agencies on statewide programs.
“Tom Watson, state conservationist with the NRCS, called and asked if they could come to my farm with Under Secretary Northey. In the process of getting that all set up, he called back and said Congressmen Gianforte would like to come along and have a roundtable discussion with producers in the Bitterroot Valley,” McPherson explained.
The event was very well attended. Organic produce growers, beef producers, an ag banker and even a cattle buyer were there representing a wonderful cross-section of Montana agriculture. Despite their varying agriculture backgrounds, all of those at the event showed collective concerns.
“During the roundtable discussion, the biggest concern that everyone had, didn’t matter if you were raising lettuce or cattle, was market disruption caused by COVID, and if COVID can cause it, what else can cause it?” he said.
McPherson went on to say Gianforte and Northey showed genuine interest in the producer’s industry worries. The politicians not only lent a listening ear, but were on-hand to answer questions and offer insight into government programs in place to assist producers.
“I was really impressed. Under Secretary Northey is from Iowa and he definitely had a hands-on farming background. Congressmen Gianforte was on top of a lot of more local, Bitterroot Valley related issues. He was there to answer questions and there are a lot of things he has been working on,” stated Lacey Sutherlin, a Bitterroot Valley rancher and president of the Ravalli County Farm Bureau. She also attended the event.
In addition to market disruptions, the roundtable also discussed programs available for young and beginning producers. McPherson pointed out that in the Bitterroot Valley land can go for an alarming $10,000 an acre, which is simply an unrealistic price to be paid by those who wish to run livestock or farm. Finding ways to make the agriculture lifestyle sustainable for future generations was an important topic for all parties involved in the event.
The MFBF is an organization with its strength in its grassroots. Connecting policy makers with boots-on-the-ground agriculturalists and allowing them to share their stories and experiences was the cornerstone of this very meeting.
“I think anytime you can get somebody off of their 30,000-foot view and have them put their fingers right down in the soil, its good,” McPherson said.
Sutherlin agreed, saying the event was a great opportunity to share her backyard with leaders from Washington, D.C.
“I think anytime you can get in front of your legislators or politicians, its good. When they come to you asking for your opinions and thoughts, I think it is important to take the time to visit with them,” she added.
All and all, the meeting offered an educational experience for all who attended. Gianforte and Northey toured not only McPherson Farm but were also able to see instances were programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP) had proven successful.
Agriculture is Montana’s leading industry, and as political leaders, Gianforte and Northey were able to tour land and talk face-to-face with producers that drive the industry. McPherson concluded by noting the day truly was a success and he felt deeply honored to be able to host the event.