Over $700,000 awarded to strengthen and diversify Montana’s Ag Industry

Governor Steve Bullock and the Agriculture Development Council today announced the recipients of $726,600 in grants and loans to agricultural businesses and organizations.

“Investing in innovative, value-added projects is vital to Montana’s agriculture industry and our rural communities,” said Governor Bullock. “These projects are a great representation of the diversity of Montana agriculture and showcase some of the ingenuity happening throughout the different sectors of Montana’s economy.”

A total of 25 businesses and organizations were awarded funds through the Growth Through Agriculture program (GTA) which was established by the legislature to strengthen and diversify Montana’s agriculture industry by developing new agricultural products and processes. GTA grants and loans are awarded by the Agriculture Development Council, a seven-member committee appointed by the Governor.

Two projects geared towards conventional agriculture aim to help producers in the areas of on-farm safety & storage and soil health, while another will assist in the expansion of a value-added family ranch operation.

  • Cowtown Ag Supply, LLC of Miles City was awarded a loan and a grant totaling $50,000 to assist with the expansion of the company’s manufacturing line of hopper cone bottoms that can be used to make farmers’ existing grain bins safer, easier to use and better able to preserve the quality of more sensitive grains such as pea and chickpeas. The funding will also help with the creation of 10 jobs in the community.
  • Beartooth Fertilizer Inc. of Bridger was awarded a grant for $50,000 to expand the company’s natural soil improvement products that will be able to help non-productive soil become productive and provide conventional and organic-certified soil treatments.
  • Prairie Grass Ranch of Havre was awarded a grant of $8,000 to assist in the vertical integration and marketing of the family’s grass-fed beef products.

A full list of funded projects can be found at this website.

“Montana agriculture must continue to innovate and we can’t be satisfied with just being a ‘raw commodity’ state,” said Agriculture Development Council Vice-Chair, Lars Hanson. “These grants and loans add value to Montana’s agriculture industry, while also supporting our rural communities and encouraging young people to come back to the operation.”

The Montana Department of Agriculture’s mission is to protect producers and consumers, and to enhance and develop agriculture and allied industries. For more information on the Montana Department of Agriculture, visit agr.mt.gov.

Source: State of Montana

MSU faculty seek to increase participation of women in agriculture with $94,000 USDA grant

Source: MSU

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics and United States Department of Agriculture show while women constitute less than 1 percent of the nation’s agricultural scientists, engineers, and policymakers, they occupy the majority, about 60 percent, of lower-paid agricultural jobs on America’s farms and ranches.

Six female professors at Montana State University and Flathead Valley Community College hope to increase the percentage of women agricultural scientists, engineers and policymakers by way of a $94,000 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, “Empowering Women in Agriculture.” The grant is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields Program, a federal initiative that invests in a diverse 21st-century agricultural science workforce and aims to increase representation of women and minorities in American agriculture.

“Representation and participation by women is an incredibly important focus in 21st-century agriculture,” said Irene Grimberg, MSU professor of cell biology and neuroscience in the College of Letters and Science, and one of the grant’s six principal investigators. “It’s a privilege to administer the grant with my colleagues so that we can begin to explore how we can elevate and support a diversified agricultural workforce in Montana.”

In 2015, the USDA published a jobs report in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental sectors. The report’s strongest career projections are in agricultural science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, sustainable food and biomaterials. The report also cited a need to diversify America’s agricultural workforce.

According to project organizers, the central goals of the grant are threefold: integrate research and education to increase the participation of women in agriculture, prepare the next generation agricultural leaders in Montana and bring greater public awareness to the critical role of females in agriculture. According to the USDA, 34 percent, or 15,065, of Montana farmers are women.

The grant’s five other principal investigators are Tracy Sterling, head of the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences; Tracy Dougher, associate dean of the College of Agriculture; Jane Mangold and Lisa Rew, associate professors in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences who focus on a wide variety of weed and invasive plant ecology and management issues in range and agricultural systems; and Heather Estrada, associate professor and program director of agriculture at FVCC.

The grant’s investigators will provide an online two-credit course, “women in the agricultural workforce in the 21st century,” that targets freshman and sophomore students enrolled at institutions in the Montana University System. The course will be team-taught by Estrada, Rew, and Mangold.

Estrada said the course will highlight the diversity of roles and contributions by women currently working in agricultural careers in farming and ranching, research, Extension, administration, and marketing.

“The idea is to expose students to the incredible variety of agricultural workforce pathways and their associated rewards and demands, shared by women working in diverse roles in Montana agriculture,” Estrada said. “There are many career opportunities for young women besides production that don’t require farming or ranching background. When we developed the class, we wanted to facilitate communication between an older generation of seasoned professionals in agriculture and the current, or next, generation of women in agriculture for an opportunity to connect and empower each other.”

Agriculture is a very male-dominated STEM field, Estrada added. “The more we can explore and recognize the wonderful and diverse contributions of women in agriculture, the more we can think outside the box and find opportunities to contribute.”

The course will be offered through FVCC, but credits will be transferable to other institutions across the Montana University System. The grant covers two-thirds of the course’s tuition for students for the duration of the project, and Estrada said she hopes the course will be taught for many years to come.

The partnership between MSU and FVCC is particularly important, Sterling said, because it’s a sharing of resources in a rural, agricultural state, and it targets historically underrepresented students — those first-generation college students, American Indian students and non-traditional students who typically enroll in community colleges or two-year workforce programs.

“Community colleges are wonderful places to begin the call for a diversified workforce,” Sterling said. “We need to begin to look critically and deeply about all walks of life having something to offer, particularly in agriculture, if higher education is going to address global questions like water resources, climate change, and food production. Land-grants are the institutions of access, and it’s important we take a leadership role in actively recruiting the next generation agricultural workforce.”

Sterling, who managed New Mexico State University’s ADVANCE grant funded by the National Science Foundation, said the NSF-ADVANCE and USDA-WAMS programs share similar tenets of inclusion and support of women in higher education. Sterling also sits on the MSU President’s Commission on the Status of University Women, a 28-member commission created to study, evaluate and advise the president on issues related to diversity and gender equity at MSU.

“Gender equity and diversity are certainly not new issues,” she said. “However, they become increasingly important as we see several fields where there’s a small percentage or complete absence of women at the top levels of administration and management, especially in STEM fields.”

A second aspect of the grant is a statewide survey of Montana women who work in agriculture. Grimberg said the survey seeks to identify the women workers’ needs, aspirations and achievements. Its questions address pay inequity, women in leadership roles, entrepreneurial support, workplace characteristics, land and capital access, and principal roles in agriculture.

“The survey study is intended to gauge women’s dreams, aspirations, and expectations, in addition to their needs,” Grimberg said. “We don’t know what kinds of research, programs, and tools are needed to better support Montana women in agriculture unless we have some baseline data.”

In an effort to increase students’ real-life experience in agriculture, the grant provides a year’s funding for up to 10 paid interns. Interns will choose from five agricultural career paths to shadow an intern host, who is preferably a female agricultural professional in Montana.

In a culminating event, the grant’s project leaders plan to organize a two-day public summit of women in agriculture to be hosted at MSU that will include panels, student presentations, talks and discussions on women’s experiences in agriculture. The summit will include a photography contest and video presentations showcasing the diversity of jobs, journeys, and lives of women working agriculture. To increase public awareness of women’s contributions to Montana’s agriculture, a team from the MSU School of Film and Photography will produce a repository of video clips and interviews with students and women in agriculture.

Charles Boyer, MSU vice president of agriculture, said he’s thrilled to support the grant and its goal of diversifying the agricultural workforce.

“As we look to a robust 21st-century ag workforce that can meet the demands of global food security and safety through technology and science, we need to uplift, mentor and support every resource possible. That begins with women and minority populations,” Boyer said. “My hope is that Montana students from diverse backgrounds seriously consider the agricultural fields. We need them.”

Contact: Irene Grimberg, grimberg@montana.edu, 406-994-3151

MSU College of Agriculture hosts first ‘College of Ag Connects’ forum Jan. 15

The Montana State University College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station invite members of the agricultural community and the public to attend its first college-wide public forum, “College of Ag Connects” on Monday, Jan. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The forum is slated to engage with the Montana agricultural community on current and local issues by highlighting relevant, ongoing college programs and projects in agricultural teaching, research, and Extension. Faculty from each of the college’s five academic departments will present overviews of their teaching and research, followed by a question and answer session. MSU Vice President of Agriculture Charles Boyer will deliver opening and closing remarks.

Tracy Dougher, associate dean of MSU’s College of Agriculture, said she hopes College of Ag Connects becomes an annual winter event for the college.

“As a cornerstone college of the land-grant mission at MSU, it’s important we continually provide face-to-face venues to connect with our partners and colleagues, in addition to digital means,” she said. “January is a good month to share updates on our diverse agricultural research and activity when most producers and agencies are preparing for the new year.”

College of Ag Connects will be held in Room 125 in Linfield Hall. Lunch costs $10 in MSU’s Miller Dining Hall, but the event is free and open to the public, though registration is encouraged. Registration forms can be found at http://bit.ly/2BJp4q1.  Visitors are welcome to park in university parking lots designated SB and F for the day, as Jan. 15 is a federal holiday and MSU classes will not be in session and offices will be closed.

Patrick Hatfield, head of MSU’s Department of Animal and Range Sciences, organized a similar departmental meeting in past years with great success.

“Our annual meeting with the Stillwater Range Association stakeholders in the Animal and Range Sciences Department eventually grew to include presentations from other departments in the college, and we received requests to expand the program to the entire College of Agriculture, Experiment Station and Extension,” he said. “We’re glad to do just that and hope the event is an opportunity for dialogue and feedback on our programs and research.”

Hatfield said the event is modeled after summer field days in the Department of Research Centers, where seven remote MAES research centers host a day to share programs and research.

College of Ag Connects faculty presentations are as follows:

For more information, contact Patrick Hatfield at hatfield@montana.edu or call 406-994-4850.

 

Source: MSU

USDA value-added producer grant funding available

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

USDA, Rural Development State Director John Walsh today April 8th that USDA is making up to $44 million available to farmers, ranchers and businesses to develop new bio-based products and expand markets through the Value-Added Producer Grant program.

 “Agriculture is Montana’s largest industry and adding value to this industry’s products will only help Montana’s farmers, ranchers, and rural business owners increase economic opportunities for their families and communities” said Walsh. “The Value-Added Producer Grant program is an under-utilized program in Montana.  This program can help expand agriculture markets and deliver a higher dollar return to producers.”

Value-Added Producer Grants help eligible applicants enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of bio-based value-added products.  Generating new products, creating and expanding marketing opportunities, and increasing producer income are the goals of this program.  These grants support planning activities, such as developing a business plan, as well as provide working capital to implement viable value-added business plans.  Grants are awarded through a national competition. The maximum grant amount for planning grants is $75,000 and $250,000 for working capital grants.  Matching resources are required.

 More information on how to apply is on page 20607 of the April 8 Federal Register. The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1, 2016. Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due June 24, 2016. Additional information and assistance is available through the USDA Rural Development Office serving your county.

   Since 2009, USDA has awarded 1,126 Value-Added Producer Grants totaling $144.7 million. USDA awarded 205 grants to beginning farmers and ranchers.

  In Montana, Poor Orphan Creamery, located in the Laurin community, received a $15,750 grant in 2014.  The working capital grant helped the sheep dairy to produce value-added hand-crafted farmstead cheeses from milk harvested from their flock of Icelandic dairy sheep.  The cheese is now sold throughout the United States and Internationally.

Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program in the 2014 Farm Bill. That law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.