Take a look around Montana, and there’s no question why it’s nicknamed the Big Sky State. Clear blue skies spread for miles, connecting to majestic, rugged mountains in the state’s two national parks, Yellowstone and Glacier. Clean air and water abound, accentuated by Triple Divide Peak, the only location in the country where rainfall can flow into three oceans, the Pacific, Atlantic or Arctic (by way of the Hudson Bay), thus sustaining a fertile environment for the essential agriculture industry.
These important natural elements, the state’s hardworking farmers and ranchers, and a commitment to sustainability and growing local are what keep Montana at the forefront of agricultural innovation.
Montana contains just over 28,000 farms, spread over 59.7 million acres of land. Wheat and cattle top the list of Montana’s most valuable commodities. Hay, barley and dry peas round out the top five.
In an effort to bring consumers closer to the state’s $4.2 billion agriculture industry, while helping promote Montana-grown and -made products, the Grown in Montana initiative was launched. As part of the Made in Montana umbrella program, Grown in Montana identifies locally grown and raised products, letting consumers know they came directly from the farm. Products include: fruits, vegetables and specialty meats, plus items such as homegrown wool, flowers and trees, and goat’s milk soap.
To be eligible for the program and display the label, products must be grown, created, made and/or enhanced in the state, resulting in 50 percent or more added value. Retail stores and restaurants that sell Montana products can also apply for the program.
On the Made in Montana website, madeinmontanausa.com, consumers can search through products, filtering by category, and find exactly what they’re looking for, knowing it was locally made.
A Healthy Start
Whether you bake, fry or mash them, all potatoes start from a seed. “Seed potatoes” are grown specifically for planting the next crop of potatoes.
Montana seed potatoes are produced under the strictest standards in the industry, grown disease-free from a single cell under careful supervision in a lab. In fact, the Montana Department of Agriculture believes they’re the most closely regulated potatoes in the country. Potato farmers across the U.S. use high-quality Montana seed for commercial planting.
Certain diseases and pests can wreak havoc on a potato crop, including destructive Late Blight and Potato Scab. Montana seed potatoes are visually inspected and lab tested for bacterial, viral and fungal diseases, and mosaic viruses. Most are also produced in the mountain valleys of the state, protecting them from wind-borne diseases and insects.
A Vital Industry
Agriculture is a critical industry for the Treasure State.
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Montana’s agriculture industry brought in more than $4.2 billion in agricultural products. Two Montana counties were nationally ranked in the top five for production of wheat and beef cows, and farmers harvested 9.5 million acres of cropland, among many other accomplishments.
Learn more at agcensus.usda.gov.
Montana was ranked as the No. 9 most committed state to local foods by Strolling of the Heifers, a local food advocacy group, in their 2014 Locavore Index.
The index is a state-by-state ranking, released yearly by the Vermont-based group, focusing on states’ commitment to local foods. This is the third year the index has been published, and it aims to strengthen local farms and food systems by encouraging efforts to use more local foods countrywide.
The rankings are based on four main measurements: the number of farmers markets, the number of CSAs (community supported agriculture), the number of food hubs per capita and the percentage of each state’s school districts with Farm-to- School programs.
Learn more about the index and how states are ranked at strollingoftheheifers.com
A Bowl Of Montana Cherries
Plump, dark, sweet Montana cherries are nature’s perfect snack.
The Big Sky State is home to Flathead Lake, the largest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi, and most of Montana’s cherry crop is grown in the area around the lake. The region’s well-drained soil, pristine water and long, warm days with cool evenings during the growing season make it an ideal climate for cherry production. Most of Montana’s cherries are eaten fresh, shipped to grocery stores across the U.S. and internationally. In 2013, farmers produced 2,015 tons of sweet cherries with a production value totaling $3.7 million.