The 2014 Young Ag Leadership Conference was off to a great start on Friday as young farmers and ranchers from across Montana converged upon Bozeman for an impressive lineup of speakers over the weekend.
Friday night was highlighted by dinner and a movie as the film, Farmland, was shown. The James Moll documentary features young farmers and ranchers from across the country as they encounter challenges making a living in modern agriculture. The film is available for viewing free on Hulu this month. Learn more in yesterday’s blog post.
Prior to the opening dinner session, YALC hosted its first every bus tour of local businesses to acquaint attendees with agricultural-related businesses they may not encounter on a regular basis.
The tour’s first stop was the Madison River Brewing Company in Belgrade. Started in 2004, the Brewery has been a growing establishment in the Gallatin Valley craft brew scene. On the tour, YALC participants learned more about the process of turning locally sourced grains into beer. The tour described the process of utilizing the sugars available in grains, combining them with other ingredients like hops and yeast to make the recipe for popular local craft brews. The spent grains (brewer’s mash) is then given to local livestock producers as a high quality by-product feed.
The next stop for the YALC tour visited the Montana Gluten Free Processing facilities in Belgrade. MT Gluten Free produces food products for consumers who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease. They have a few individually labeled products, including baking mix, pancake or waffle mix, dessert mixes, and raw oatmeal. Most of their products are made from oats, which are grown in Montana, mostly in the Gallatin Valley. 90% of their products are sold domestically in states like California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. Israel is their largest export market. The gluten free products are part of a growing trend for value-added agriculture products in the state of Montana.
The YALC tour wrapped up with a short drive to the Leep Dairy Farm near Toston (local newspaper feature from 2009). The dairy is one of the larger in the state, milking nearly 750 cows. The Leep dairy farm is operated by a father and two sons and is the only dairy in Broadwater County. Their milk goes primarily to liquid markets (meaning for liquid consumption, not used to make cheese, butter, or similar products) sold under the Dairygold label, which is a farmer-owned. Their products can be found in grocery chains such as Costco, Walmart, and many others in the Northwest.
According to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture, there are only 92 dairies in the state of Montana, ranking fifth in agricultural products with 1.1% of the state’s agricultural sales. The Montana climate is ideal for dairy cows. The animals are able to stay cool in the summer and during the winter, enclosed barns are able to keep the cows comfortable and warm despite the sometimes-harsh weather. A limiting factor for Montana dairy farm growth is capacity for processing their products. There is no large cheese or specialty processing facility nearby.
The Leeps are very cognizant of keeping their animals, milk and environment safe. The farm uses mostly local forages for their silage. All of their solid and liquid wastes (manure and run-off water) are collected; solids composted, and used as fertilizer for neighboring farms. In turn, the Leeps are able to cooperate with the local farms to grow better forage crops for their cattle. All milk from cows treated with antibiotics or other medicines is discarded and every load of milk is tested for safety before it enters the milk supply chain. The farm is very aware of public concerns of animal welfare in the dairy business and continually works with their co-op, inspectors, and employees to make sure tasks on the farm are completed correctly and the animals are treated humanely.
The Young Ag Leadership Conference continues through Sunday morning in Bozeman. Participants will attend several workshops and participate in discussion panels on various topics including row crop farming, livestock issues, local food, property rights, and many more. To follow online, use the hashtag #YALC2014. View more photos on the Montana Stockgrowers Association Facebook Page.