Montana Stockgrowers Then and Now

by Kayla Sargent

In celebrating 135 years, the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) met where their organization first took root for the Mid Year Convention in Miles City, Montana.

“We are older than the state and we have much to be proud of,” MSGA First Vice President Jim Steinbiessar said.

Reflecting on the history of the organization and the industry it was formed around, Steinbiessar said many of the issues MSGA works on are the same today as they were 135 years ago.  For example cattle theft and predator control were concerns that brought the group together — both issues that cattlemen still face today.

“We do make some great strides and gains, but we are still fighting some of the same battles,” he said.  “And we are fighting some new battles, too.”

Trucking regulations, for one, and fake meat were at the forefront of the week’s conversations.

“Who’d have thought that would ever be a concern?,” Steinbessar asked regarding fake meat.  “I’d like to think it won’t be a serious competitor, but we need to treat it like it could be.”

He approached the fake meat discussion with an optimistic attitude though, noting that the facts are on the beef industry’s side.

“Talk about an environmentally friendly product, it doesn’t get much better than beef.  Beef will be okay, but we do need to keep an eye on this emerging product,” Steinbessar said.

He also expressed pride that, in recent years, MSGA has facilitated change through working relationships with D.C. officials.  Reaching beyond the state borders has also connected the organization with Chinese consumers whom have a high demand for Montana beef.  Steinbessar said the packing plant is still “on our ‘To Do’ list and we are still in dialogue with the Chinese.”

“We are interested in doing anything we can to grow our markets and certainly a Montana packing plant would be a useful tool,” he said.

Having just finished the 66th Montana legislative session, MSGA didn’t create any new policy at the Mid Year Meeting, but Executive Vice President Jay Bodner offered an encouraging wrap up of some agriculture “wins” from the lawmaking months behind them.  Bodner said the Montana legislature had a record number of bill draft requests at 3,324 so it was a busy session for lawmakers and lobby groups alike.  Some of the priorities for MSGA, based on policy developed by members, included the Department of Livestock budget, water legislation, wildlife, fake meat labeling, assistance for the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and predator control.

“It was important to ensure the Department of Livestock have a vibrant and structurally balanced budget,” Bodner said.  “Things went as planned there.”

He said there was additional funding earmarked for the expansion of the brucellosis designated surveillance area, a cost MSGA “didn’t want those producers to bear.”  The budget for the livestock loss board was also increased from $200,000 to $300,000 — a necessary move as livestock depredations continue to rise and funding had not followed suit.

“If people want to see these predatory species on the ground, we want to make sure we can cover some of the costs for producers,” he said.

Bodner said a case involving the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) attempting to file water right claims on private water pumped to a state section, resulted in House Bill 286.  MSGA was happy to see this pass with strong numbers in support.

“DNRC was very opposed to this bill, but we got some good numbers behind it and that was a big win for us.”

MSGA was also in strong support of a joint resolution opposing the grazing permit change from livestock to bison on BLM allotments leased by the American Prairie Reserve (APR).  This joint resolution passed both the House and Senate and sent a strong message to the federal BLM office.

“The APR affects just about everyone in Montana,” Bodner said.

He called the Real Meat Act a very important step in the up and coming battle against “fake meat.”  The bill will prevent the label on plant-based proteins and cultured protein products, when they hit the market, from being labeled as meat or beef in Montana markets.

The group also voiced support for a bill that would help cover student loan repayments for individuals farming and ranching in the state.  Bodner said MSGA would have liked to see more funding for next generation support programs, but called the passage of the bill a “good first step.”

Rather than offering support, MSGA had to strongly oppose several bills related to predator management.  Bodner said there was a bill to prohibit wolf hunting in a region around Yellowstone National Park.

“We opposed that because we basically saw that as an expansion to the park boundary,” he explained.  “Two ag groups were successful in tabling that bill in the committee.”

They also worked to table a bill that attempted to ban coyote derbies around the state.  Bodner said it is important to MSGA to keep all predatory management tools available to producers.

MSGA supported two pieces of legislation relating to bison that were ultimately vetoed by Governor Bullock after passing the House and Senate, but he still called it a successful legislative session for agriculture.

“It was really a great session all in all,” Bodner said.


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