Tester Secures Major Investments, Advances Montana Priorities in Critical Funding Bills

(U.S. Senate)—U.S. Senator Jon Tester, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, advanced Montana priorities and secured major investments in two critical funding bills.

Tester successfully included amendments to strengthen the ban on Brazilian beef imports and to force the nomination of a USDA Rural Development Undersecretary in the 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.  Tester’s amendments will require USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to report to Congress on specific provisions regarding the Brazilian beef ban and to restore the position of USDA Rural Development Undersecretary, which Perdue has attempted to eliminate.

“During times of drought and market uncertainty, it is critical that Montana family farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to protect their bottom line,” Tester said.  “This important bill invests in agriculture research, protects critical FSA jobs, improves water infrastructure, and ensures rural America has an advocate at USDA.  Republicans and Democrats support this bill because folks worked together to address the needs of rural families and rural communities.”

 Tester also secured critical water and wastewater infrastructure investments in the 2018 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.  Tester helped include additional funding for each of Montana’s rural water infrastructure projects and delivered the first-ever federal funding for the Blackfeet Water Compact, which was ratified by Congress last fall.

“Montana’s rural water projects are vital to families, businesses, and family farms and ranches across the state and they create good-paying jobs,” Tester added.  “The water infrastructure investments secured today will help close that funding gap and provide folks with additional certainty.  Reliable access to clean water is essential for every Montanan.”

 Tester worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass both the 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which funds the Department of Agriculture and other ag initiatives, as well as the 2018 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which funds initiatives within the Energy and Interior Departments.

In addition to his amendments, Tester successfully pushed for and secured the following investments and provisions in the must-pass funding bills:

2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill

  • Fully funds the Fort Keogh Research Laboratory in Miles City.  The President’s proposed USDA budget attempted to shut down the lab.
  • $1.2 billion for the Farm Service Agency, a significant increase over the President’s proposed budget, which would have cut funding for the offices that assist local farmers and ranchers.
  • $550 million for USDA Rural Development water and wastewater infrastructure.  The President’s proposed USDA budget provided $0 for rural water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Language urging Secretary Perdue to work closely with the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative to prioritize a solution regarding unfair Canadian wheat grading practices.

 2018 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

  • $48 million in additional funding for construction of ongoing rural water projects in the west.
  • $4.8 million for construction on the Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana Rural Water System, which supplies water to communities, farmers, and ranchers in northcentral Montana.
  • $6 million for construction on the Fort Peck-Dry Prairie Rural Water System, which supplies water to communities, farmers, and ranchers in northeast Montana.
  • $10 million for the Blackfeet Water Compact, which is the first time the account has received federal funding.
  • Language that bars the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation from reallocating funding from the Lower Yellowstone Intake Diversion Dam.


The Agriculture and Energy and Water Appropriations Bills are two of the 12 annual must-pass government funding bills.  Both bills were passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee today and will now await a final vote on the Senate floor.

Costly Closings: USDA ARS proposed lab closures affect producers nationwide

By SUE ROESLER, The Prairie Star

USDA-ARS (Agricultural Research Service) center closures affect not only the producers in the state they are located in, but also farmers throughout the nation lose out on the benefits of national collaborative ag research.

Seventeen USDA-ARS research centers/labs may be closed under the administration’s 2018 final budget proposal delivered to Congress in June.

Of those 17, four ARS labs are part of this upper northern region, including centers in Dubois, Idaho; Miles City, Mont.; Morris, Minn.; and Brookings, S.D.

The USDA-ARS Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Lab in Miles City, Mont., mirrors what producers do in the real world – raise cattle on native prairie and improved grasses on pastures and rangeland – and it has been conducting research there since the 1930s.

“Fort Keogh researches not only cattle but grazing rangelands, grasses and forages – that’s for a start. The center is a such a big fact-finder for those of us who run cattle on grass,” said Fred Wacker, first vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the owner of Crossfour Ranch near Miles City, Mont.

Wacker, a third-generation Montana rancher, has never been hesitant to pick up the phone and call Fort Keogh when he has had any questions. He wants to know the kind of grasses and other forages his herd would thrive and perform best on.

What he has learned at Fort Keogh has translated over to his all-natural beef program. He said his program is the exact fit for the beef program newly opened in China.

Fort Keogh is one of the largest research facilities in the world with 50,000 acres of native rangeland; 4,000 acres of pastures and 1,500 acres of irrigated crop and pasture land.

Line 1 Herefords originate from Fort Keogh and have had profound impacts on the cattle industry. Nearly 70 percent of all Herefords in the U.S. have Line 1 genetics in their pedigree, and descendants still form the herd at Fort Keogh.

Scientists at the ARS Fort Keogh Livestock lab participated in sequencing the cow genome as part of an international consortium. L1 Dominette 01449, a Line 1 Hereford, was the source of the DNA used to decode the bovine genome.

“Fort Keogh is very important to cattlemen in the U.S. They researched the reasons for bloat, when and how to condition my cattle, and they’ve done a lot of research on water and minerals,” Wacker said.

Their studies on grasses have been unmatched – what grasses perform better in drought situations, for instance. Fort Keogh is the expert on burning parts of the range to bring back better grasses.

The lab’s research feeding heifers and cows prior to breeding to maximize pregnancy rates found producers didn’t need to feed the industry standard to have females breed back.

Andy Roberts, ARS animal scientist at Fort Keogh, said, “The beef industry has traditionally recommended that cows be fed to a minimum body condition and heifers be fed to a recommended 60-65 percent of mature body weight pre-breeding in order to achieve high pregnancy rates.”

Roberts and other scientists at Fort Keogh found nearly the same pregnancy rates occurring in the limit-fed heifers as in the controls. Both were fed a mixture of corn silage, alfalfa, and a supplement, and the limit-fed heifers received 80 percent of what the controls were fed. The controls could eat as much as they wanted.

Another lab that could be closed in the Mountain region is the ARS U.S. Sheep Experimental Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho, near the borders of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“It is the only ARS sheep research center in the nation – the only one,” said Mike Corn, president of American Sheep Institute, who runs a cow/calf and sheep operation near Roswell, N.M. “Without it, sheep and wool growers couldn’t operate in today’s economy.

This is the third time the USSES has been on the chopping block, and sheep producers and organizations have gone to bat to save it every time.

Corn said the U.S. would become more dependent on sheep and wool imports from other countries if the USSES were closed.

The station was established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson and has been grazing sheep on the diverse landscape for more than 100 years.

“If we close the station that is in such a unique environment in the intermountain west where 62 percent of all sheep in the country are raised, we will be losing relevant research to most sheep producers, especially those with large flocks,” Corn said.

No other station conducts research into the unique challenges that confront sheep producers across the nation. The station regularly conducts research such as, the best grazing techniques, diseases and prevention, and developing new breeds.

“The sheep station has made germplasm available to ranchers and has developed three of the most important sheep breeds – the Columbia, the Targhee and the Polypay,” Corn said.

USSES has also conducted extensive research on the effects of fire on rangelands, the health and recovery of the sage grouse and its habitat, controlling invasive and noxious plants, and grazing management plans.

“They have found that grazing sheep can coexist with other wildlife – including the sage grouse, the grizzly bear and elk can coexist and have been doing it for more than 100 years,” Corn added. “That is huge for all us sheep producers.”

The North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, Minn., is also on the proposed closure list.

Sue Dieter, the coordinator of the Barnes Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association, said North Central has provided invaluable research to rural farming and ranching in the region and across the U.S.

USDA-ARS (Agricultural Research Service) purchased 15 acres of land near Morris, on which to construct the laboratory buildings. But there was no land available on which to conduct long- term water run-off and soil erosion research. Since the Morris research program was part of a larger national study on soil erosion, certain criteria had to be met with respect to soil type.

The Barnes-Aastad Association was thus formed as a non-profit organization for the purpose of purchasing land, which in turn could be leased, to the Research Laboratory for long- term field experiments.

Soil is an invaluable resource. Without knowledge of how to feed biology underneath the soil with crop diversity, farming practices and adequate residue, soils are subject to wind and water erosion.

North Central’s top 10 accomplishments include:

• Developing new and alternative oilseed cropsthat provide new revenue streams for improved cash flow, pollinator health and nutrition, and soil erosion control.

• Pioneered development of novel double-cropping strategies to sustainably intensify food and biofuel productionwhile promoting soil health and efficient use of agricultural resources.

• Improved pollinator health, abundance and diversityby the development of new crops and cropping systems.

• Led development and supported a large nationwide data baseto quantify the impact of agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions.

• Led development and supported a large nationwide network databaseto quantify the impacts of crop residue, such as corn stover, on soil properties.

• Developed best management practicesfor protecting soil resources.

• Created new non-chemical and environmentally friendly weed control alternatives(abrasive grit applicator) for organic weed control.

• Identified heirloom wheat and cornfor improved food security and nutrition.

• Developed economical wintercrops that sequester nitrate and eliminate nitrate losses to ground and surface waters.

• Accelerated development of green jet fuelfrom oilseed feedstocks.

Another USDA ARS lab closure is the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory or Integrated Cropping System Research Lab in Brookings, S.D.

Shannon Osborne, Ph.D., a research agronomist with North Central in Brookings, S.D., has been conducting research on incorporating cover crops in current production systems for the past 10 years.

Cover crops feed the biology in the soil in unique ways because they utilize many different types of crops.

One producer in North Dakota, Gabe Brown, said the use of cover crops has allowed him to not have to use fertilizer anymore. His yields have increased substantially, as well as the organic matter in his soils.

Other proposed USDA-ARS research laboratory closures include two ARS labs in Arkansas, one a partial closure; one in Florida; one in Illinois; one in Louisiana, one in Maine, one in Massachusetts, one in Mississippi; one in Missouri, one in Texas, one in Oklahoma and a partial closure at the Aquaculture Production worksite in Wisconsin.

This year, in 2017, the USDA-ARS is officially 54 years old. It continues to serve U.S. producers, and the labs work in concert with each other, so vital research is available to anyone.

Fire Effects in the Northern Great Plains

Heat Duration In MinutesInformation provided by Dr. Mark Petersen of the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City.

Fire and grazing are natural and important processes in maintaining grasslands in the Great Plains and elsewhere.  Active fire suppression has in fact been recognized as a key disruptive force in rangeland ecosystem integrity throughout the world.  Fire’s ecological effects are numerous and complex.  Fire can manipulate nutrient dynamics, soils, vegetation, and animals.

Primary factors affecting community response are timing, frequency, and intensity of fire relative to the biology of organisms examined.  Fire effects on total plant productivity in the northern Great Plains are neutral to positive.  Native perennial grass productivity generally increases following fire.  Neutral responses in total productivity occur when increases in native perennial grasses are offset by reductions in annual grasses and forbs, which are predominantly non-native and non-preferred species.  Fire causes an immediate reduction of standing dead material and litter.  The combustion of standing dead material is a loss of forage in the near term.  The reduction in litter can alter light and moisture relations at the soil surface, promoting increased productivity and discouraging establishment of non-native species.  Reduction of standing dead material and litter as well as improved forage quality of new growth also attract grazers to burned sites.

Fire Season Effect on Brome Density
Response to fire can be species-specific, allowing targeted control of native weeds, such as purple threeawn, pricklypear cactus and juniper.  Invasive non-native weeds, such as annual bromes are also susceptible to selective control with fire and fire can kill seeds of some noxious invasive species.

Fire has even been shown to selectively control pest grasshopper species.   As an evolutionary process, fire cannot be substituted with any other management option.

Fire Effects on Weed Seed EmergenceThe dominant perennial grasses in the northern Great Plains are resistant to fire.  Western wheatgrass, threadleaf sedge, needle-and-thread, and blue grama were exposed to fires with a wide range of fuel loads (up to 8020 lb/ac) and hot, dry weather to determine the probability of fire-induced mortality.  No western wheatgrass or threadleaf sedge died.  To reach a 0.5 probability of mortality for needle-and-thread and blue grama, surface temperatures  exceeding lethal limits had to last 10.5 and 7.5 minutes, which required more than 7100 lb/ac of fuel.  Most combustion in grassland fuels is completed in 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes and fuel loads in the northern Great Plains are typically 600-2700 lb/ac.

Species such as Japanese brome can be reduced by fire through direct mortality of exposed plants and seeds, and indirect reduction through alterations in the microenvironment that reduce successful germination and establishment.  Established perennial weeds with protected buds, such as leafy spurge, are not harmed by fire, but seeds near the soil surface, in the litter, or in the canopy can be quite vulnerable to fire-induced mortality.

Heat Effects on EggsAs with plant species, animals are directly and indirectly affected by fire.  For example, ticks and grasshoppers that are in the plant litter or canopy  experience direct mortality from fire.

Additionally, we have shown some of the primary pest grasshopper species can be selectively controlled with fire.  Migratory grasshoppers show little egg mortality because they lay eggs deeply in the soil, whereas white-whiskered grasshoppers lay their eggs near the soil surface and commonly show 86% mortality.

Fire Ecology References available upon request. Email ryan@mtbeef.org.

2014 Montana Stockgrowers Mid Year Meeting Miles City

Preview: MSGA Plans Mid-Year in Miles City

Montana Stockgrowers is excited to announce that the 2014 Mid-Year Meeting will be held in Miles City, MT on June 13 & 14. Your Board of Directors and MSGA staff has been hard at work putting together a Mid-Year Meeting that will be one to remember!

Sneak Peeks to Mid-Year

  • Gather together to discuss the critical issues facing Montana ranching families and set interim policy to guide our association.
  • Hop on the bus as we conduct a Ranch Tour that includes a tasty beef lunch, range and research tour at Fort Keogh, a tour of the Range Rider Museum, and a tour at Optiblend Industries.
  • Enjoy a Prime Rib dinner, watering hole, and entertainment at the end of the Ranch Tour on June 13th.
  • Dance the night away at the Miles City street dance, featuring the Copper Mountain Band, held on Friday night June 13th.
  • Fill up and re-energize at the REEF Pancake breakfast before finalizing committee meetings on June 14th.
  • Discover the big taste of the Kansas City BBQ cook-off.
  • Network at the tailgate lunch starting at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
  • Hold on to your hats and cheer on the contestants at the Miles City Ranch Rodeo to be held on Saturday June 14th at 1:00 p.m.

Mark your calendars! Save the date! Join the Montana Stockgrowers Association at the 2014 Mid-Year Meeting. For more information and to register, visit www.mtbeef.org or call 406-442-3420.

2014 Montana Stockgrowers Mid Year Meeting Miles City


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