Agriculture Fire & Drought Assistance Hotline

As drought conditions worsen and fires burn throughout the state, the Montana Department of Agriculture has launched the Agriculture Fire and Drought Assistance Hotline. The hotline will serve as a tool to help connect those affected to available resources, programs and donations, as well as to provide information on how others can help. Questions related to hay/feed donations, livestock, fencing, and transportation can be directed to the hotline. The hotline number is 1-844-515-1571 and will be staffed 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.

“Montana’s agriculture industry has been disproportionately impacted by disasters this year, both drought and fire,” said MDA Director Ben Thomas. “There’s currently a major need for resources and there’s been an overwhelming swell of support from folks across the state and throughout the country. We saw a need to get information out about resources available and ways to help connect people to those resources.”

Montana Agriculture Fire & Drought Assistance Hotline
Monday-Friday, 8 am–5 pm

The hotline is not an emergency number, if you are in an emergency please call 911.

Visit for more information.

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

Drought expansion in Montana

Much of Montana and parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas had no rain this week; some areas have been drier than normal for the last 2 to 3 months; and some drought indicators reflect dryness for the last 12 months. D3-D4 were expanded in northeast Montana, and D3 expanded in northwest South Dakota and was added in southeast South Dakota, where the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) was consistently at those dry levels for the last 1 to 9 months. D1-D4 expanded in northwest North Dakota where the SPI was consistently at those dry levels for the last 1-6 months. D0-D2 expanded across much of Nebraska, with collateral expansion of D1-D2 in adjacent South Dakota, D1 in adjacent Iowa, and D0-D1 in southeast Wyoming, and D0 expanded in parts of eastern Kansas and northeast Colorado, due to 30-90 day precipitation deficits and high evapotranspiration caused by excessive heat. Governors provided much-needed response to the dire drought impacts.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order declaring a drought disaster in 28 counties and five Indian reservations in the eastern part of the state. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency proclamation, allowing the state Emergency Management Agency to address unmet drought needs, particularly those related to wildfires. According to July 23rd USDA reports, 92% of the topsoil moisture and 88% of the subsoil moisture were rated short or very short in Montana, 82%/81% of the topsoil/subsoil moisture was short or very short in South Dakota, 71%/66% in Nebraska, 67%/62% in North Dakota, 61%/58% in Wyoming, and 45%/41% in Colorado. More than half of the pasture and rangeland were rated in poor to very poor condition in North Dakota (75%), South Dakota (73%), and Montana (56%). In South Dakota, 37% of the corn crop, 34% of soybeans, 57% of sorghum, and 76% of the spring wheat were in poor to very poor condition. In North Dakota, 23% of the corn crop and 39% of the spring wheat were in poor to very poor condition. In Montana, 55% of the spring wheat was in poor to very poor condition. According to media reports, as of July 25th, the Lodgepole Complex wildfire in Montana was the largest wildfire in the CONUS.

Dryness Categories

D0 … Abnormally Dry … used for areas showing dryness but not yet in drought, or for areas recovering from drought.

Drought Intensity Categories

D1 … Moderate Drought

D2 … Severe Drought

D3 … Extreme Drought

D4 … Exceptional Drought

Drought or Dryness Types

S … Short-Term, typically <6 months (e.g. agricultural, grasslands)

L … Long-Term, typically >6 months (e.g. hydrology, ecology)

Montana Drought Resources



Source: U.S. Drought Monitor


USDA Designates Eight Counties in North Dakota as Primary Natural Disaster Areas with Assistance to Producers in Surrounding States

In response to a request from Brian Haugen, Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) acting State Executive Director in North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated Dunn, Emmons, Grant, Logan, McIntosh, McKenzie, Mountrail and Sioux counties in North Dakota as primary natural disaster areas due to losses and damages caused by a recent drought.

Farmers and ranchers in the following counties in Montana qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous. Those counties are:

Richland, Roosevelt and Wibaux

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas on July 6, 2017, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for FSA’s emergency (EM) loans, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

Other FSA programs that can provide assistance, but do not require a disaster declaration, include Operating and Farm Ownership Loans; the Emergency Conservation Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA service centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs.

Additional information is also available online at

Meet the Leadership Series – Heather Fryer

Heather Fryer



Colorado Springs, Colorado


I was raised in an Air Force family, with my officer father piloting a variety of planes and commanding multiple units.   During my childhood, I lived and traveled all over the nation, sometimes living in agriculture communities, at other times living in the suburbs.  My agricultural experience included raising and showing livestock in 4H and ranch-hand labor, helping to build fences in the mountains of Idaho.  The rural lifestyle and my enjoyment of raising animals set the course of my life, leading to university study in agricultural disciplines.  In 2002, I graduated from Colorado State University with two Bachelor of Science degrees, in Agricultural Business and Animal Science.  In 2004, I received my Master’s of Science in Agricultural Economics, married Jim Fryer and began working in Billings, MT.  Shortly thereafter and for the ensuing ten years, Jim and I have embraced career progression opportunities by moving to several locations in the US, Europe and Asia.  My family feels very fortunate to have returned to Jim’s native Montana by settling in Central Montana almost four years ago.  Jim works at Bos Terra, where the operation uses local grains to produce national beef.  Our three children are thoroughly immersed in Montana country life.


Office manager for home business; occasional cowpuncher; school board member; proposal editor; aspiring photographer

What sparked your interest in agriculture?

My family has always enjoyed the great outdoors; hunting, camping, fishing and riding horses.  When we lived on the east coast, we would visit the Pennsylvania farm where my father was raised.  I was involved in showing livestock in 4H and fell in love with raising and caring for the animals.

 What makes a great leader?

Great leaders possess many traits.  They have a clear set of principles guiding their lives and actions, a strong code of ethics, and the courage to stick to their principles and ethics as they strive to accomplish the goal.

They enjoy working with others to solve problems and reach solutions.  They communicate early, often and clearly.  Many issues are difficult and they take perseverance and courage to discuss.  Great leaders aren’t afraid to tackle tough issues.

Often times we need to stop and ask questions, listen, and hear what others are saying.  The more you learn about other perspectives, the more you’ll discover how much (or how little) you know about your own.  These are sometimes difficult topics for everyone. If you get defensive and attack, you’re not contributing to productive dialogue.  No one accomplishes much alone, and no one can know everything about everything.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

Rope a calf and drag it into the branding fire successfully.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to be in rural Montana, working in agriculture research partially, publishing agriculture articles and photographs, riding as much as possible and raising my family.  Recently, I was visiting with an Emergency Room doctor (but that’s another story) whose husband is a native Montanan, she said, “You can take the man out of Montana once, but if he returns, he’ll never leave again.”  My kids and I hope she’s right and we think she is.

What do you hope to gain from the leadership series?

I hope to positively contribute to the agriculture industry as we continue to feed an ever growing world population.  As the world continues to grow, agriculture businesses, leaders and policy makers can hopefully help expand our markets.  Stockgrowers and other producers can continue to spread a positive message that we care for our animals, crops, land and we want to ensure food safety.  Our voices are incredibly important to agriculture, to our communities, to our interests and to our country.  I want to learn how to better help our industry through advocacy and policy.

Heather Fryer 2IMG_1863P1100904

Department of Livestock Leadership Resigns

Montana Department of Livestock DOLThe Montana Board of Livestock convened in Helena September 21-22. Following Monday’s morning session, the Board of Livestock released information announcing the resignation of Executive Officer, Christian Mackay and John Grainger, Brands Division Administrator.

Mackay said he is leaving to pursue other interests and wishes the board and staff the best of luck in the coming months and years ahead. The Board of Livestock accepted his resignation.

“MSGA appreciates the service of Christian MacKay and John Grainger to Montana’s cattle and livestock industry. We appreciate the working relationship that we had with the Department of Livestock during their tenure and we wish them both the best of luck in their future endeavors”, said Errol Rice MSGA Executive Vice President. “MSGA looks forward to working with the Board of Livestock as they look to transition the department’s leadership.”

MSGA presented comments to the board during their deliberation of the FY16 and FY17 budget. The board took action to increase the cattle per capita fee from $2.15 per head to $2.19 per head. The MSGA board voted unanimously on August 27th to support allowing the board of livestock up to a 10 cent per head increase for per capita fees on cattle for their FY16 and FY17 budget cycle.

An industry-working group chaired by MSGA President Gene Curry, continues to offer input to the board of livestock on budgetary considerations, policies and procedure and board governance training.

More information about the Department and Board of livestock can be found at

UPDATED: The Board of Livestock also received the resignation of dairy industry representative, Jeff Lewis, during this week’s meeting.

Livestock Groups Consider MOU for Brucellosis Management | Podcast

PodcastThe National Public Lands Council is hosting their annual meeting this week in Cody, Wyoming. Several Montana ranchers are taking advantage of the close proximity to attend the conference and meeting with public land users from across the country. Montana Stockgrowers and Montana Public Lands Council has several representatives at the meeting and we’ll be catching up later with Jay Bodner to learn more about the big topics of discussion coming out of the event.

Ranchers representing the Montana Public Lands Council in Cody this week include Vicki Olson of Malta and MPLC President, John and Joe Helle from Dillon, George Trischman from Sheridan and Johnny Schultz

Earlier, Montana Stockgrowers took part in a Tri-State Meeting prior to the PLC conference in Cody, to meet with representatives from our neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming. MSGA Executive Vice President, Errol Rice, shares more about the topics discussed on the Stockgrowers podcast. As part of the meeting, the three states agreed to encourage state and federal agencies to create a working committee that will work toward better solutions for managing brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Click here to listen to today’s podcast on a new page.

State Adds Three New Invasive Plants to Noxious Weed List

Common Reed (Phragmites australis) - Click image to learn more

Common Reed (Phragmites australis) – Click image to learn more

The State of Montana updated the Montana State Noxious Weed List to include three new plants and shifted the priorities of three existing weeds effective July, 2015.

Noxious weeds are invasive plants that have been determined to have the potential to or have actual detrimental impacts to Montana’s environment and economy. Propagation of these state listed noxious weeds is prohibited by law. They are prioritized by the establishment of the weed and management criteria.

“Noxious weeds can impact the ecology of local areas in many ways and they can have a large impact on Montana’s agricultural sector. We update the list to reflect the highest priority noxious weeds that we try to prevent from becoming established or propagated within the state,” said Statewide Noxious Weed Coordinator Dave Burch.

One new plant was added to the priority 1A list, Common reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis), which has been detected within the state. A priority 1A listing means the weeds are not present or have a very limited presence in Montana. If a weed is designated as a priority 1A it requires preventive measures, education about the noxious weed and eradication if detected.

“It’s extremely important that we do all we can to prevent, educate and, if necessary, eradicate any new priority 1A noxious weeds; based on their invasive behavior in nearby states, we believe that they can have a very detrimental effect on our landscape.  We often rely on eyes and ears out in the field to help manage and prevent noxious weeds from becoming established, so it is important to know the state’s priority noxious weeds, and help identify and inform weed managers,” said Jane Mangold, Associate Professor and MSU Extension Invasive Plant Specialist.

Brazilian waterweed (Egeria densa) and Parrot Feather Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum aquaticum or M. brasiliense) were added to the Regulated Plant List. Regulated plants require that none are sold or transported in Montana. Eurasian watermilfoil and Flowering rush were moved to a Priority 2A, while Hoary alyssum was moved to Priority 2B. Follow the link to view the current Montana Noxious Weed list:

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

MSU Extension is a statewide educational outreach organization that applies unbiased, research-based university resources to address practical needs. For more information on MSU Extension, visit

Explanation of Montana Tax Reappraisal Notices

The following is a guest column from Montana Representative Rob Cook, R-Conrad

Representative Rob CookThe arrival of reappraisal notices from the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) has many Montana taxpayers experiencing sticker shock. But, before we are panicked enough to begin construction of a bunker, it would be useful to know how a sharp increase in appraised market value affects our actual tax bill.

Let’s look at a reappraisal notice. Assume that we find in the table on page 2 that the previous year taxable value for our residence was $1000 and that our current year taxable value is now a frightening $1500. Should we expect that our current year property taxes will also increase by a factor of 1.5?

The short answer is no and, while there are many factors that contribute to this, I’ll attempt to explain a few of the most important.

First, we should consider that if the taxable value of our property grew at such an alarming rate, shouldn’t the taxable value of all the neighboring properties have grown by a similar factor? If we didn’t complete any new construction or major renovations since the last appraisal in 2008 – then it is likely that our new values simply reflect an uptick in the local housing market and that our new taxable value has not moved disproportionately to that of our neighbors.

Perhaps inadvertently, we have uncovered one of the nuances of the Montana property tax system – when we are investigating a particular class of property the absolute value of an individual change is not as important as the comparison of the properties relative change to the relative change of other members in its class. For example, if the average change for neighboring properties was 1.3 and our change was 1.5, then we should expect that our taxes will increase by a greater percentage than our neighbors. Conversely, if the average change for neighboring properties was 1.7, then we could expect that our taxes would increase by a smaller percentage than our neighbors. In the latter case, it is actually possible for our taxes to decrease!

Next, we should consider what happens when the taxable value of every class of property increases. We know that the total taxes collected is equal to the taxable value multiplied by the mill rate, so did our county and local government just get a license to explode their budgets?

Fortunately, in this scenario, taxpayers are protected by Montana law. The growth in county and local government budgets is limited to one-half the average rate of inflation plus the taxes provided by any new growth. Thus, if the total taxable value goes up, the mill rate must be reduced so that total collections do not exceed the maximum allowable budget.

Finally, if we take into account the maximum budget constraint and the relative movement of our property within its class, it becomes apparent that the actual property taxes we will be required to pay does not mirror the increase in taxable value. In fact, in most cases any increase in property taxes should lie much closer to the increase provided by the maximum budget constraint than to the multiplier derived from the comparison of the current and existing taxable values.

This has been a very simplistic explanation of a reappraisal notice and I would be remiss if I did not mention that, in addition to the discussed relative movement within a class, there is also relative movement between classes. The legislature attempts to mitigate the latter by employing a technique called ‘taxable value neutrality’.

Taxable value neutrality simply means that the statewide total taxable value of residential, commercial, and agricultural properties remains the same each year. This was achieved in the last session by lowering the tax rates for each of these classes.

Because this mitigation technique is applied to the statewide totals, it can cause tax shifting at the local level. If we wish to be strictly accurate, these shifts must be considered when attempting to decipher the actual tax impact of the reappraisal notice.

Our property tax system and reappraisal process can be difficult to understand. I have selected a residential property example but the same considerations apply to commercial and agricultural properties. I hope the explanation has been useful and I appreciate your time.

Beef To School Program Receives Research Funding

A team of Montana State University researchers and community partners has been awarded a three-year, $220,000 grant to help Montana beef producers and meat processors and increase the use of local beef in Montana’s schools and communities. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

A team of Montana State University researchers and community partners has been awarded a three-year, $220,000 grant to help Montana beef producers and meat processors and increase the use of local beef in Montana’s schools and communities. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

MSU News Service – A team of Montana State University researchers and community partners has been awarded a three-year, $220,000 grant to help Montana beef producers and meat processors and increase the use of local beef in Montana’s schools and communities.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, is intended to increase the availability and consumption of local beef in Montana’s schools and communities and help improve Montana beef producers’ and meat processors’ viability and sustainability. It is also intended to discern which “beef to school” methods are most sustainable for producers, processors and schools.

The team is led by Carmen Byker Shanks, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Health and Human Development.

In Montana and nationally, producers and consumers are beginning to see social, environmental and economic benefits from local procurement efforts that link ranchers and local beef processors with schools in their community and region, according to Byker Shanks. She added that the ‘beef to school’ efforts involve support of local beef from a variety of people, including producers, processors, and foodservices and students at K-12 schools.

“Beef to school efforts can increase the sustainability and viability of local and regional food systems,” Byker Shanks said. “The recently published 2015 dietary guidelines for Americans highlights that beef production has a potentially large impact on the environment. In Montana and beyond, it is important to support beef production through efforts such as beef to school programs. Beef to school programs have the potential to reduce the need for transportation, packaging, and other inputs; increase access to local food; provide farmers an additional market for their beef; enhance community food literacy and connections to local agriculture; keep money circulating in local economies; and possibly utilize cattle that are grass-fed.”

Byker Shanks noted that the Montana Beef to School Coalition – a group formed in 2012 that includes a range of representatives, from school foodservice to meat processors and producers to food and agricultural organizations and agencies – has identified four items that are needed to grow beef to school programs in the state. Those items include identifying current successful models of beef to school efforts, analyzing the capacity and motivations of beef producers and meat processors to fill the demand for local beef, an availability of resources about how to make beef to school efforts economically and nutritionally viable for schools, and implementing strategies to include beef to school programming at schools.

To address these needs, researchers will conduct comprehensive case studies of current beef to school efforts to identify the benefits, challenges, best practices and gaps that exist for beef to school procurement models, Byker Shanks said. Additionally, the team will examine how local beef is utilized in schools and evaluate student acceptance and preference of local versus non-local beef.

Researchers will then use this information to evaluate the larger Montana beef to school market by developing and testing evaluation tools, analyzing characteristics of beef to school supply chain issues, and assessing capacity and needs for slaughter, processing and storage facilities.

“As schools and ranchers in Montana are beginning to work together to bring local beef into schools, the results have been mixed: some procurement models seem successful for all parties involved, while others have faced significant barriers in making beef to school programs viable,” Byker Shanks said “These evaluation results will help create solutions to overcoming barriers to optimizing beef to school efforts.”

The researchers will also develop extensive outreach, educational and promotional materials for multiple groups, including K-12 students and teachers, university students, producers and school foodservice programs. Outreach efforts will also include both in-person trainings and webinars for school foodservice, producers and processors.

“The tools and findings of this project will give Montana’s producers, processors and schools the resources they need to form productive, sustainable procurement relationships,” Byker Shanks said, adding that those resources will be applicable to other stakeholders, as well. “Additionally, this project will foster partnerships among producers, processors and other stakeholders, garnering long-term interest and investment in local and regional beef markets as well as the sustainable production and marketing of other local and regional meat products.”

In addition to Byker Shanks, others involved with the project include Thomas Bass and Joel Schumacher of MSU Extension, Karla Buck of Bear Paw Meats, Katie Halloran of National Center for Appropriate Technology, Jennifer Montague of Kalispell Public Schools Foodservice, Garl Germann of Montana Meats, Jeremy Plummer of Lower Valley Processing, John Polacik of Park High School Foodservice, Aubree Roth of Montana Team Nutrition and members of the Montana Beef to School Coalition.

For more information, contact Byker Shanks at or visit the Montana Beef to School Coalition’s Facebook page at or its Twitter account at

Montana Youth Range Camp Applications Available

DUPUYER, Mont. – Applications are now available for the 2015 Montana Youth Range Camp. This year’s camp will be held the week of July 27-31 at Frank Brattin Middle School in Colstrip, Mont., and is open to all youth ages 12 -18.

“Range camp is an opportunity for kids to connect with Montana’s great outdoors in a setting that offers fun, friendship and learning,” said Heidi Crum, DNRC Rangeland Program Coordinator.

Students will attend outdoor classes covering four major subjects: water and riparian areas; soils and geology; rangeland monitoring; and wildlife and livestock grazing management. Students also receive instruction in plant identification and anatomy, and work in teams to solve a natural resource or range management problem, presenting their solutions to a panel of judges at the end of the week.

Along with coursework, Youth Range Camp offers opportunities for fun and recreation. Campers have the opportunity to participate in a wildlife presentation, hiking and visiting the medicine rocks. The fun day includes swimming and fishing. A dance takes place on the last night of the week.

Scholarships may be available by contacting your local conservation district for more information. Additional assistance and help to run the camp is being provided by Montana DNRC and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Cost for the camp is $175 and includes meals, lodging and all scheduled activities. Registration is due by July 3.

The 2015 Montana Youth Range Camp is hosted by the Rosebud Conservation District. For more information, contact Scott Kaiser, DNRC Program Specialist at (406) 232-6359, or Bobbi Vannattan with the Rosebud Conservation District at (406) 346-7333, ext. 101. For more information, including an application form, visit the DNRC Web site at

Updates on Montana Youth Range Camp and other events can be found on the Facebook page: