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2021


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Organic cherry farmer learns the trade By Kristi Niemeyer for the Valley Journal

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pring is just starting to show herself at Fat Robin Orchard and Farm on Finley Point, but already, sticks from recent pruning are piled between trees, and a few of the farm’s namesake birds chirp from branch and fence post. Inside the orchard kitchen, a fan whirs as Lise Rousseau freeze dries cherry juice and preps another batch of cherry wine vinegar, soaked first in cherry bark. “Vinegar can be a little harsh so I went with aging it on cherry wood,” says Rousseau. “And boy, it just smooths it right out.” Rousseau is as inventive in the kitchen as she is knowledgeable in the orchard, but it’s been a steep learning curve for a couple that had never owned an orchard – let

Albert Silva and Lise Rousseau

alone an organic one. Two decades ago, Rousseau was communications director for the National Audubon Society in Colorado. Her husband, Albert Silva, was a technical training engineer employed by a company that makes electronic testing equipment for cable television and the telephone indus-

try. When funding for her job evaporated in 2003, the couple decided to move to a more rural environment. Rousseau had grown up on a small “gentleman’s farm” near Santa Cruz, California, replete with sheep, pigs and cows, she and wanted to return to that lifestyle. When she joined her

KRISTI NIEMEYER / VALLEY JOURNAL

husband at a conference in Whitefish for a jaunt to Glacier Park, the plane flew the length of Flathead Lake “and I thought, ‘wow, this is really beautiful!’” While her husband was at the conference, she consulted real estate guides and the Internet, nothing fit. Acreages were either too large or too showy for

their tastes. Finally, on the last website she visited, she clicked ag properties. The first thing that popped up was a 15-acre organic orchard with eight acres of cherries, two acres of apples, and a nearly 100-year-old log house. She convinced her husband to look at the property, even though he told her it was “70 miles the wrong way.” By November, it was theirs, and they moved in on March 21, 2004. Her husband continued to travel for his work while she took a crash course in her new vocation. “When we moved in that March, nothing had been pruned. I didn’t know how to run the orchard sprayer, irrigation system or tractor,” she recalls. Complicating matters further, this was the first, and therefore oldest, organic orchard in the state,

certified in 2000. How, then, to ward off crippling aphids, devastating cherry fruit flies without conventional pesticides? “We just made our way and got through our first harvest. I don’t have a clue how,” says Rousseau. “It took us a month to finish picking all the cherries.” Next came the conundrum of marketing the crop, which at the time entailed either a U-pick option or washing, sorting and packing cherries into 20-pound boxes and delivering them to markets in Helena, Missoula, Polson and Kalispell. “Initially, it was anywhere that would take a box of cherries.” As more organic orchards came on line, the competition for buyers became more intense, nudging Rousseau toward finding other markets see Farm & Ranch page 4

Thank You When you live and work in an ag community, you understand the hard work it takes to be homegrown. We at the Valley Journal want to say thank you to our local ranchers and farmers for the hard work they put in day in and day out. We’re Your Homegrown Newspaper and proud to offer a locally raised product, just like you, since 2004. Farm l Ranch

March 31, 2021 - 3


Cherry farm from Farm & Ranch page 3

for her crop. At the same time, she was learning the rhythms of the orchard – when and how to prune, water, nourish, ward off insects and harvest. “About year six, I started to notice people who wanted to know something about organically growing cherries were calling me, which I thought was absolutely hilarious,” she says. “Now, I’m the resident expert. At least I feel significantly more confident in playing that role.” Rousseau has become a sought-after and well-respected resource for organic growers across Montana. She’s on the board of directors of the Organic Advisory and Education Council and served on the now-defunct Montana Cherry Advisory Committee. For a time, she coordinated conferences and managed outreach and communications for the Montana Organic Association. Along the way, she’s pioneered an enticing array of value-added products, including the ever-popular freeze-dried cherries, a luscious cherry reduction, Besotted Cherries (soaked in dry cherry wine), Huckle-Cherry Syrup, and artisanal jams and jellies with titles like Dark Tart Meyer Marmalade and Plum-Lime Cardamom Jam. Her exploration into value-added products began in year two, after 4 - March 31, 2021

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the orchard yielded its largest harvest ever. She reached out to the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan about using its pitting machine to pit and then freeze cherries, which dramatically expanded options for processing her time-sensitive crop. Unlike apples and pears, cherries don’t keep well. “A cherry will never be better than in the moment it’s picked,” she says. She sold pitted, frozen cherries that year, and began perfecting her recipe for dehydrated cherries.

“It took six years to get the process just right so they came out the same every single batch and were moist and chewy but shelf stable,” she says. “It was quite the learning process.” The dried cherries left a juicy residue, which became the basis for her thick, slow-cooked cherry reduction and cherry wine vinegar. Still, dried cherries remain her biggest seller. “This year they were in such demand that I was sold out in December,” she says. In addition to mar-

keting products on her website, fatrobinorchard. com, she also supplies a distributor who spreads Fat Robin frozen and dried cherries across Montana, from national park concessionaires to restaurants, universities and healthcare institutions. She also sells cherries to Ten Spoon Winery for its Flathead Cherry Dry, Western Cider for a cherry cider, and Posh Chocolate for chocolate bars, truffles and caramels. Two Community Supported Agriculture organizations (CSAs)

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buy bulk cherries, as does Mission Mountain Natural Foods in Polson. She had to taper off the U-pick part of the business after more than 400 people showed up one weekend. Instead, she’s gone to an appointment system. “It’s quiet and you can hear the birds,” she says. “But it breaks my heart to turn people away, especially long-time customers.” The rest of the harvest – around 75 percent – goes into Fat Robin products. The pandemic dealt a blow to sales of the frozen, pitted cherries when the food service industry shut down last spring. “I went from selling multiple cases a week to a case every other week.” On a happier note, 2020 was also the year Rousseau and her husband added a licensed on-farm commercial kitchen so that she no longer treks to Ronan to dehydrate cherries. A relatively small space, its amenities include a large commercial sink, oven, refrigerator, work surfaces, a dehydrator and the newest addition, a freeze dryer. The months of November through January are quiet in the orchard, yielding time for the kitchen where “I’ve made all this other work for myself.” In February and March, the pruning crew arrives and her husband, who retired 18 months ago, begins piling the trimmings into rows. In April, a neighbor brings

his flail, a mower that chips and shreds the piles of trimmings and dead leaves into mulch. By the end of the month, the bee boxes are delivered, and their residents get to work pollinating the orchard. As the trees begin to swell, they receive their first dose of organic fertilizer, a blend of fish emulsion and other nutrients, followed by applications at bud break, after blossom and before the trees say “Hello! I’ve got cherries.” As the grass and clover grow (along with dandelions), the mowing begins and continues through September. The farm’s sheep help, although not as much as when the herd numbered 18. After a mountain lion killed two last summer she’s down to just four aging ewes who reside in the apple orchard. By June, controlling cherry fruit flies and aphids takes precedence, with the help of organically sanctioned bio-pesticides and constant mowing, and in July irrigation starts as the fruit begins to ripen. Harvest time, which occurs anywhere from July 15 through the first week of August, “is intense daylong pandemonium,” says Rousseau. They prepare by readying the bins and checking in with the loyal crew of harvesters. “We’ve been very, very fortunate. We have pickers who’ve been working with us for see Farm & Ranch page 5


Cherry farmer from Farm & Ranch page 4

years,” says Rousseau. “Part of it is we treat people like people, and they see there’s nothing we won’t do – that carries weight with people who do physical work.” Of course, weather is a factor in all of these phases. A late freeze, just before trees blossom, can decimate the future crop, while a catastrophic rain event in July, just as the fruit is turning ripe, might cause cherries to split, making the fruit undesirable (but still fine for drying, juicing or making jam). Two years ago, Fat Robin’s harvest was just

KRISTI NIEMEYER / VALLEY JOURNAL

25 percent of average, and last year, 50 percent of normal due to late

frosts. “We still have to do the same amount of work whether we harvest

10 tons of cherries or none,” says Rousseau. Once cherries are off the trees, some are packaged for local customers. The rest are stored in the coolers at Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center for pitting, which takes up to three days. From August on, Rousseau is either drying or freeze-drying cherries “nonstop until I’ve gone through all of them.” At the same time, orchard maintenance continues through September. The pace finally slows in October, although there are still two acres of McIntosh apples to harvest, plus a handful of heirloom apple trees, a plum and a pear tree.

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With the exception of deer, who are unwelcome guests, “I don’t mind sharing,” says Rousseau. In 17 years, Rousseau and her husband have created a unique, albeit labor-intensive business. They’ve been at it long enough to see kids who picked cherries at Fat Robin with their parents return with their own children. “We’ve established something that’s important to them – they’re not just going to go get cherries, they’re going to come see us to get cherries,” says Rousseau. “That’s probably the coolest part of what we do.”

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Why the name Fat Robin? The orchard historically was named for each of its five previous owners. Since Rousseau and Silva have different last names, and couldn’t come up with a way to merge them, their orchard went nameless for the first four years. “One spring Albert was looking out the window at a flock of birds and said, ‘wow – look at that fat robin!’ and then he turned to me and said, ‘that’s it!’” Robins have been a part of the orchard since the beginning, and their cheerful presence is an apt metaphor for the owners, who take a friendly approach to both trees and critters.

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Pollinators: tiny creatures with a big job By Kristi Niemeyer for the Valley Journal

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usan Gardner, who raises sheep south of Charlo, remembers traipsing through the fields with her father. While he flooded his pastures with irrigation water, she paid close attention to the bees foraging on clover – likely residents of the Arlee Apiary hives that still spend summers on her family farm. “There’s nothing like watching a bee collecting pollen from a blossom,” she says. “It’s a reassuring all-is-well-with-theworld activity.” So when she took a pollinator workshop offered by the Xerces Society and discovered that all was not well in the world of pollinators, “I began to mutter about it.” Pollinators – an array of insects that includes all varieties of bees, plus moths, butterflies, wasps, flies and hummingbirds – do essential work, ferrying pollen to and from plants, fertilizing flowers, and enabling the plants we rely upon to reproduce. Thirty-five percent of global crop production depends upon these tiny workers. Over the years, habitat destruction and degradation, combined with pesticide use, have caused their numbers to plummet around the world. Gardner brought up the decline in bees and 6 - March 31, 2021

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other pollinators to members of the Lake County Conservation District, a local affiliate of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. She’s been a member of the locally elected board of supervisors since 1996 and currently serves as vice chair. When Heidi Fleury joined the organization in 2016 as conservation coordinator, Gardner found a receptive ear for her pollinator concerns. Fleury had studied pollinators, and one of her favorite facts is this: “One out of every three bites of food you take, you can thank a pollinator for producing.” After she gave a presentation to the board based on her research,

Gardner thought, “maybe we really can do something about this.” Together, they crafted a resolution and presented it to the Montana State Association of Conservation Districts, which passed an official statewide resolution in 2017 making pollinator conservation a priority. The movement is also gaining support nationally, as projects to promote pollinator habitat flourish across the United States. On a local level, LCCD launched its Pollinator Initiative, an innovative approach to cultivating habitat across Lake County for all those helpful insects. Since 2017, the district, headquartered in Ronan, has developed and dispersed free seed mixes, while offering free technical assistance to landowners who want to establish

pollinator plots. Since the project’s inception, LCCD has

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Left: Sarah Klaus and Heidi Fleury, of the Lake County Conservation District, show off a local pollinator plot.

helped 407 people plant nearly 730 acres of pollinator plots by sharing seed mixes designed to attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects all summer long. The organization has also helped other Montana counties launch similar initiatives. Sarah Klaus, the education, outreach and technology specialist for LCCD, has recently taken the lead on the project. The initiative’s goal is threefold: increasing

habitat by providing seed specifically for this area; educating the community about the importance of pollinators; and providing technical advice and support on pollinator plantings. So far, more plots are located in people’s yards than farmers’ fields, in part because prepping and maintaining the plots is labor intensive. “We try to tell people to start small,” says Klaus. “You can always come back next year and get more seed.” Plot preparation is essential, and that means clearing out weeds and any other vegetation by see Farm & Ranch page 10


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Charlo shrimp farm aims to offer fresh alternative By Rob Zolman Valley Journal

CHARLO — The Mission Valley is predominantly cattle country; however, located on the outskirts of Charlo, along U.S. Highway 212, an anomaly can be found. A full-scale operational shrimp-producing plant is a farm of a different kind. While the valley isn’t particularly known for its abundance of fresh seafood, shrimp farmer Jim Vaughn aims to provide the freshest 100 percent natural White Pacific Saltwater Shrimp in Northwest Montana. Mission Valley Shrimp is housed in a 78- by46-foot warehouse with six 8,000-gallon aboveground swimming pools (or tanks) full of saltwater. There are about 7,500 shrimp in each tank. The tanks are dome-shaped with a clear plastic cover to prevent the occasional overexuberant crustacean from making an escape. “Out of that 7,500, we are trying to get 350 pounds of sellable shrimp,” Vaughn said. “We’re not quite there but that is the goal.” A couple of years ago, Vaughn started with an experimental tank after learning about shrimp farming from his brother. He streamlined his technique to ensure that he could make the shrimp grow. In the late fall of 2019, he became a full8 - March 31, 2021

ROB ZOLMAN / VALLEY JOURNAL

Mission Valley Shrimp owner Jim Vaughn performs a quality control check on one of his six large shrimp pools.

time shrimp farmer. Vaughn purchases 10,000 baby shrimp, the equivalent size of an eyelash, from supply hatcheries in Florida and Texas. The shrimp are

added to “nursery tanks” to grow, and the saltwater is monitored continually for temperature, salinity, nitrates, ammonia and other factors. Once grown to the

weight of a dollar bill, Vaughn transfers the shrimp to the large tanks where they eventually grow to 23 grams, which is about 20 shrimp per pound. It takes about 90

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days to raise market-sized shrimp. Many farmers grow three to four crops per year. Mission Valley Shrimp has a small carbon footprint and uses only a small amount of propane to heat the 84-degree

water. The heat from the tanks warms the main warehouse and adjoining office. The whole building is fitted with energy-efficient LED lights, and very little electricity is see Farm & Ranch page 9


shrimp farm from Farm & Ranch page 8

used to maintain power to the blowers that provide vital air to each tank. “I wanted to make it as environmentally friendly as a guy could,” Vaughn said. Vaughn also takes pride in offering shrimp that are free of hormones, antibiotics and chemicals. Mission Valley Shrimp primarily relies on a sustainable biofloc system for waste treatment and disease prevention for raising protein-packed shrimp. The biofloc system uses a special type of bacteria that feeds on waste from the shrimp, and the shrimp in-turn feeds on the bacteria, resulting in a “super-efficient” feed conversion rate. “It’s a sustainable, low-impact type of farming,” Vaughn explained. Most shrimp available in grocery stores are beheaded, deveined, precooked and frozen, show-

casing a pinkish color, but when purchasing shrimp fresh from Mission Valley Shrimp, the live shrimp are grey and have large heads and antenna. Vaughn said people often ask him how the shrimp taste. He said his shrimp have a sweeter taste and firmer texture, compared to other options. Also, because the shellfish are raised in a controlled environment without a sandy bottom, there is no need to devein the shrimp. Vaughn would like to

add additional tanks and expand his offerings, but for now, he just hopes to turn a profit. “Last year was a bad year to start a business, especially a unique one,” he said. “COVID-19 knocked my business down by 70 percent. People were not traveling or having big get-togethers.” Business is starting to pick up this year. “It’s starting to get better,” he said. “I have noticed people are starting to get out and move around.”

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ROB ZOLMAN / VALLEY JOURNAL

Above: Jim Vaughn attends to his six shrimp pools. Left: Vaughn displays a shrimp nearly ready for market.

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Pollinators from Farm & Ranch page 6

LCCD is also experimenting with “solarization,” or covering plots in plastic in hopes the intense heat will bake the lingering roots and seeds of unwanted invaders. Surprisingly, Klaus says, clear plastic appears to be more effective than black plastic at that task. The district, in tandem with the neighboring Natural Resources Conservation Service office, has worked diligently to come up with seed mixes that thrive in Lake County. As much as possible, they source seeds locally, and package them at the office in Ronan (or last year, due to COVID-19, in Fleury’s backyard), with help from members of the Big Sky Watershed Corps. Two mixes are available, both containing perennials and annuals. The Western Montana Wildflower Mix is comprised entirely of native and conservation wildflower species, including yarrow, yellow prairie cone flower, a variety of sunflowers, coreopsis, flax and black-eyed Susan. It’s suitable for either small or large plots, and can cover up to 2,500 square feet. The Yard Mix includes such showy pollinator-friendly flowers as cosmos, poppies and 10 - March 31, 2021

bachelor buttons, as well as native wildflowers, and is best suited for contained gardens, measuring up to 100 square feet. Long-lasting color is key to a successful mix. “The more diversity in your pollinator plot, the more diverse bug population you’ll attract,” says Klaus. Brightly colored flowers and a mix that blooms from early summer into the fall provides critical forage all season long. Once the seeds are planted, they require watering and weeding. “The largest pitfall of plantings is weeds and other plant competition,” says Klaus. To combat those incursions, mixes include groundcovers that help keep the weeds at bay while the stand is established. Are all these gardens making a difference? “The plots always seem to be just buzzing with pollinators,” says Klaus. Gardner offers a similar observation. She’s been cultivating pollinator-friendly plants for a long time. “All summer long this place is just buzzing,” she says. “And I still get honey from Arlee Apiaries’ hives.” Learn more about the initiative at lakecountyconservationdistrict.org/pollinator-initiative/ or see related story on Farm and Ranch page 14.

Community encouraged to participate in fair By Karen Peterson Valley Journal

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Members of the Big Sky Watershed Corps gathered outdoors last spring to package seed mixes for the Pollinator Initiative. Below: A pollinator finds a sunflower.

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LAKE COUNTY — The Lake County Fair is updating the entry process for this year’s gathering. “We are still working on the details, but people can get started with their projects anytime,” said Sjaan Vincent, fair manager. Participants can enter the fair through the new online process at fairentry.com - a national program that creates an entry profile for each fair. Vincent said folks can still sign up in-person if they don’t have access to a computer. 4H participants will use the same system. Last year, the livestock sale was outside due to COVID-19 concerns and will be outside again this year. “People really loved it being outside, so we are going to continue that,” Vincent said. People from ages 6-100 are encouraged to participate in the Open Class fair contest. “We are really encouraging the community to participate,” she said. “The fair has a reputation of being a kids’ fair, but it’s open to all ages. We would love to have people bring their favorite flower, crafts, potato, culinary creation, experiment, dried flowers, needle craft, and more.” For more information, go to www.lakemt.gov/fair/ book.html.


Ag appreciation dinner canceled again, tradition to honor producers continues By Karen Peterson Valley Journal

RONAN — The Ronan Ag Appreciation Dinner was canceled for a second time in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although the sentiment still exists. “We aren’t having the dinner, but we want the farmers and ranchers to know that they are still appreciated,” said Katie Jo Elliott, Ronan Area Chamber of Commerce board manager. The dinner is usually held at the Ronan Community Center where farmers, ranchers and family pack into the room to enjoy a steak dinner and socialize. The last dinner was held in 2019 and was marked as the 41st time the event was held. The Ronan Chamber of Commerce hosts the event and local businesses sponsor it.

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Craig Blevins, above, helps young people learn about the cattle industry. Left: Beth Blevins smiles at another agriculture event.

Tickets are given to farmers and ranchers to thank them for contributing to the local economy. During the dinner, a local producer is honored for their service, and this year, the Ronan Chamber decided to continue the tradition by honoring

Beth and Craig Blevins for their work. The two were born and raised in Montana, and together, they raise registered black Angus and commercial cattle. Their family includes two children, Michaela and Ethan Blevins, who participated in Future Farmers

of America and 4H while they were growing up. The Ronan Chamber put together a list of major accomplishments for the two who have called the Mission Valley home for the past 30 years. Beth belongs to the Round Butte Women’s Club, which donates money back into the community. She was on both the animal health and livestock committees for the Farm Bureau. She has been a veterinarian for 33 years and is the president of the Montana Veterinary Medical Association. Craig has been the beef superintendent for the Lake County Fair. He is the Farm Bureau’s state director for District 1. He is the president of Northwest Counties Farm Bureau for seven counties. He is the NW Counties Farm Bureau sponsor herdsman for Lake, Flathead and Sanders

counties. He donates to Western MT Stockmen’s Association for the heifer program and provides scholarships to graduating seniors. Craig has been an A.I. Technician in the Mission Valley for 43 years. “Craig and Beth have dedicated many years to our local community,” Elliott said. “4H and FFA are two organizations that the Blevins family were involved in for years. Craig was the beef superintendent for four years, served on the Market Livestock Committee for several years and had the role of vice president of the 4H council.” She continued: “Beth has volunteered countless hours to both organizations and given many educational presentations to kids bringing animals to the fair. Beth is a member of the Round Butte Women’s Club, where she

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volunteers her time to help raise money, which helps to preserve the history of the club as well as donates a large portion of money back into the community.” The Ronan Chamber of Commerce recognizes Craig and Beth Blevins for their many contributions to their community. “Not only do the Blevins contribute their time to the Mission Valley specifically, but they have an immense impact on the Montana Ag Industry as a whole. The Blevins Family has been and continues to be an instrumental part of the Montana Ag Industry as well as the Mission Valley. It’s amazing to talk to them about what all they have done. You can feel the excitement and pride they have for our community and our state. We are so proud to have them in our community and thank them for everything they have contributed.”

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Governor Greg Gianforte visits the Lake Family farm in Ronan to celebrate National Ag Day.

Governor celebrates National Ag Day at Lake family potato farm News from the Office of the Governor

RONAN — Governor Greg Gianforte celebrated National Agriculture Day, March 23, by visiting the Lake Family farms, potato farms in operation for more than 80 years in the Mission Valley. “We’re celebrating Montana agriculture and the farmers and ranchers that drive our state’s number one industry,” Gianforte said. “Our commodities like potatoes, wheat, barley, beef, and pulse crops are recognized throughout the world for their superior quality, and family farms like the Lake’s serve as the cornerstone to rural communities across our 12 - March 31, 2021

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state.” During the visit, Governor Gianforte toured the on-farm seed lab and observed hundreds of pounds of potatoes being shipped from the farms to market. Montana is a major growing area for high-quality, certified disease-free seed potatoes that are shipped across the U.S. and throughout the world. Montana growers produce a wide

array of potato varieties including traditional russets, red skinned and gold fleshed varieties, as well as heirloom, purple skinned, and blue and red fleshed varieties. On Monday, Gianforte proclaimed March 23 as Agriculture Day and the week of March 22 as Montana Agriculture Week to celebrate Montana’s agricultural producers and their way of life.

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No-till seed drill available for rent News from Lake County Conservation District

LAKE COUNTY — Spring is in the air and planting is sure to be on the mind of many Mission Valley residents. The staff of Lake County Conservation District also have their eyes on the fields, as they prepare their Great Plains No-till Seed Drill for spring rentals. The seed drill is available to rent from March-December for Lake County residents, but the early-spring thaw typically marks the beginning of the busiest time of year. Since the district partnered with our local chapter of Pheasants Forever and the DNRC to purchase the drill in 2017, 37 different people have used it to plant over 1,000 acres, and we have received positive feedback on the ease of use and success of plantings. The no-till seed drill has been designed with the capability of planting into existing vegetation and field residue, in many instances eliminating the need for conventional tillage. Planting with a no-till drill gives your newly planted seeds a competitive edge and access to moisture immediately and, if no-till and other soil conservation practices are im-

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plemented continually, improves the quality of your fields for future plantings, as well. The no-till seed drill is a Great Plains 706NT, which has a seven-foot wide planting width and 7.5-inch row spacing. It is equipped with large and small seed boxes to accommodate a wide variety of seed sizes. Capable of seeding three acres per hour, the drill is well-suited for planting cover crops, forage and pasture, pollinator plantings, and inter-seeding. The no-till drill is available to residents of Lake County for a rental charge of $200 for the first 36 hours for smaller plantings or $10/acre for plantings over 20 acres. A $1,000 security deposit is required and there is a cap of four consecutive days for the rental period. The drill needs to be operated with a minimum of a 50-horsepower tractor with hydraulics. It can be transported by a 3/4 ton pickup truck and has a total width of 12 feet. To make a reservation, contact Sarah Ogden at sogden@macdnet. org or 406-676-2841 x118. Online booking and additional information is available at www.lakecountyconservationdistrict.org.

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Pollinator week celebrated April 2-11 News from Lake County Conservation District

LAKE COUNTY — Lake County Conservation District is hosting a week of free events for the Fifth Annual Pollinator Week April 2-11. Want to grow a pollinator plot? Want to know more about our free events? Want to participate in our scavenger hunt, visit https://lakecountyconservationdistrict.org. Over a week of free events will be available so people can learn about pollinators and pollinator plants. Anyone is welcome to come on out for a free movie at the Polson theatres; Trivia Takeover will be at the Ronan Co-Op and

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Glacier Brewing, a site prep workshop and our free seed grab-and-go will be in Polson and Ronan. The online workshop is on April 5. Trivia Takeover will happen on April 6-7. Seed grab and go will be on April 8-9. Movie questions with the director will be on April 10. Times and locations are listed on the website under events. This year, we are also hosting a Pollinator Week Scavenger Hunt and winners will be selected randomly from all completed submissions. Prizes will include 100 square foot pollinator plot installations with site prep included, Flathead Lakers Swag and LCCD Swag.


USDA extends free meals to children through summer 2021 due to pandemic News from the USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the nationwide extension of several waivers that allow all children to continue to receive nutritious meals this summer when schools are out of session. These flexibilities are now available through Sept. 30. USDA is extending these waivers to provide local program operators with clarity and certainty for the summer months ahead, when many children cannot access the school meals they depend on during the academic year. The waivers were previously extended only through June 30. “We will do everything we can to make sure children get access to healthy, nutritious meals regardless of their families’ financial circumstances,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our child nutrition professionals are doing a heroic job ensuring kids across the country have proper nutrition throughout this public health emergency, often times with limited resources. USDA is committed to providing local op-

BIGSTOCK PHOTO

erators with the flexibilities and resources they need to continue offering the best meal service possible to their children, given their day-to-day realities.” The waivers allow for safe meal distribution sites that serve all children for free, regardless of income. In addition, the waivers: - Allow meals served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) – collectively known as “summer meal programs” – to be made available

in all areas at no cost; - Allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times; and - Allow parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children, including bulk pick up to cover multiple days of feeding children. Right now, up to 12 million children are living in households where they may not always have enough to eat. These critically needed summer meals will pro-

vide relief to many children in families who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and are fighting daily to put food on the table. Summer meal sites are places where children and youth age 18 and younger can receive meals at no cost in a safe environment. The meals are also available to persons over age 18 with mental or physical disabilities. Sites may be located in a variety of settings including schools, parks, community centers, libraries, church-

es and more. USDA is issuing this guidance as early as possible to empower communities to establish as many meal sites as they can effectively manage this summer. To learn more about how the program works and the role of sponsors and meal sites, visit www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/ how-become-sponsor. USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

Lake County Conservation District presents FREE-BEE showings of

“The Pollinators” April 2nd - 11th, 4 p.m. & 7 p.m. at the Polson Theaters Many more free events and giveaways during Pollinator Week! Learn more at:

https://lakecountyconservationdistrict.org/ pollinator/week

Farm l Ranch

March 31, 2021 - 15


Montana FFA looks to 91st annual state convention Countdown to State FFA convention begins  News from the FFA

MONTANA — This year’s Montana FFA State Convention will be a special hybrid event with some competitive events and general sessions held in-person and numerous activities and networking sessions held online and remotely April 7-10. This year, Montana FFA has remained Connected by Corduroy by continuing to welcome all students into the organization where everyone can find their place. The Montana FFA State Convention will celebrate how we are growing the next generation of leaders committed to seeking solutions to improve the world around them.  There are several ways to be involved in the 91st Annual State FFA Convention no matter where you are or whether you’re a sponsor, exhibitor, alumni, or current member. The Montana FFA Foundation has been hard at work to ensure all members, sponsors, and supporters get the opportunity to connect, engage, and experience 16 - March 31, 2021

This year we will be sending FFA chapters staples of the Montana FFA Convention in our Countdown to Convention packages. Supplies for service projects, trade show tokens, the State FFA Dance playlist and other State Convention hallmarks will all be featured and distributed ...

a Montana FFA State Convention. Though this year looks different, the Montana FFA Foundation is confident that participants will get the premiere leadership, personal growth, and career success that comes with a “normal” State FFA Convention.   While some events and general sessions will be held in-person in Billings, April 7-10, much of the Montana FFA Convention will be held through the online conference platform. On this platform, students will have the opportunity to connect with career professionals, engage in online contests, and network with supporters and members.   In the time between now and the long-awaited 91st Montana FFA Convention, members will partake in “Countdown to Convention” activities. 2020-21 Montana FFA State 2nd Vice President, Chay Van Dyke, stated: “As an FFA member, I

was constantly counting down the days until State FFA Convention.” Following last spring’s State Convention, our goal was to make FFA present with members wherever they were by sending students a little piece of Convention in individual gift boxes.   This year, we will be continuing that excitement by sending FFA chapters staples of the Montana FFA Convention in our Countdown to Convention packages. Supplies for service projects, trade show tokens, the State FFA Dance playlist, and other State Convention hallmarks will all be featured and distributed to chapters as well as ideas for chapter bonding and supplies for leadership development activities. Accompanying these items will be the opportunity to stay connected through events taking place leading up to State Convention including a statewide trivia night, the Greenhand Degree Ceremony, a statewide dance, and the State Days of Service to impact all Montana FFA

members whether they will be in Billings for State Convention or at home.   Montana FFA is searching for volunteers for both in-person and virtual student contests. Supporters can volunteer by joining us in Billings or the comfort of

their own home to help support FFA members’ leadership development and career preparation through these experiential learning opportunities. Opportunities for judging and volunteering can be found at this link: https:// signup.com/go/xYescqK.  Those interested in getting involved with the 91st Annual Montana FFA Convention, including organizations who wish to exhibit and connect with FFA members, can visit the Montana FFA Convention website for more details: www. montanaffa.org/convention.     The Montana FFA

Foundation supports 99 FFA chapters across the state of Montana, representing over 5,000 members. The Montana FFA Foundation’s mission is to cultivate partnerships, promote awareness and secure resources to enhance Agricultural Education and the Montana FFA Association.  Questions about Montana FFA State Convention opportunities and events can be directed to Paytyn Wilson at 406582-4118 or paytynw@ montanaffa.org or visit the Montana FFA Convention website at www. montanaffa.org/convention. 

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March 31, 2021 - 17


Rewilding the national mammal

ALEXIS BONOGOFSKY PHOTO

Bison photographed in Yellowstone National Park in January 2020.

There’s a bottleneck of bison at brucellosis quarantine facilities outside of Yellowstone National Park. Two bills introduced by a Montana lawmaker could alleviate that, helping tribes across the U.S. restore viable wild herds. Will the Legislature back them? by Amanda Eggert for Montana Free Press

MONTANA — When bison roam beyond Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary around this time of year in a search of forage, one of four fates await them: they’ll be hazed back into the park, harvested by hunters, shipped to slaughter or quarantined for months or even years of brucellosis testing. For years, this has been their lot, per a complex set of agreements between the Montana Department of Livestock, the National Park Service, the InterTribal Buffalo Council and the United States Department 18 - March 31, 2021

of Agriculture designed to keep the park’s bison population below an agreed-upon number and minimize the risk of brucellosis spread from bison to livestock. Bison that go into quarantine are held in a kind of limbo while state and federal agencies conduct several rounds of testing to determine which animals have contracted brucellosis. Space is tight at the two quarantine facilities outside of the park — combined, they can accommodate about 104 animals — so that’s where the bottleneck develops. Despite the fact that dozens of tribes across the country are eager to establish new wild

bison herds or supplement existing herds with Yellowstone bison, hundreds of animals are shipped to slaughter each year for want of quarantine space before they can even be tested. Rep. Marvin Weatherwax, D-Browning, has introduced two proposals to the Montana Legislature that could alleviate the bottleneck that’s developed on Yellowstone’s northern border by allowing more bison to complete their quarantine on tribal land. In conjunction, House Bill 311 and House Bill 312 would lift existing requirements that wild bison receive brucellosis-free certification from the state veterinarian before traveling

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between two tribes or between the park and a tribe. Those measures would significantly increase quarantine capacity in the state, thereby boosting the number of wild Yellowstone bison available to build and bolster other cultural herds across the U.S. Several tribes in Montana — including the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, which currently have the state’s only other federally approved quarantine facility — have been closely tracking developments in the Legislature. The Fort Peck quarantine facility can hold about 600 bison, but it’s been operating at about 20 percent of capacity

because it can’t accept Yellowstone bison for a final phase of assurance testing until they’ve “graduated” out of the USDA quarantine facilities near the park — the bottleneck. If HB 311 and HB 312 pass, Yellowstone bison would be able to skip the smaller quarantine facilities outside the park and go straight to the secure 320-acre testing facility the Fort Peck Tribes built in 2014 at a cost of more than $600,000. The InterTribal Buffalo Council, a collection of 71 tribes across 19 states working on the Yellowstone bison issue, says Weatherwax’s bills will support the development and growth of wild bison


herds on tribal land from Oklahoma to Alaska while continuing to protect cattle producers from the risk of brucellosis. “HB 312 will allow the ITBC to send more buffalo to its member tribes, including most of the Montana tribes. This would be a great benefit to the tribes’ culture, food, sovereignty and economies,” ITBC President and Blackfeet Buffalo Program Director Ervin Carlson told the House Agriculture Committee during its Feb. 11 hearing on Weatherwax’s bills. He added that conducting the quarantine on the Fort Peck Reservation would not increase risk to Montana’s cattle industry or necessitate additional livestock surveillance testing. Opponents of the measures acknowledged that current disease management protocols might be excessive, but said

they’ve prevented Yellowstone bison from transferring brucellosis — a disease that can cause an animal to abort its young — to cattle. They said that’s important because it prevents most of the state’s cattle producers from incurring hefty testing fees and shields the Montana livestock industry from the multimillion-dollar financial hit that would accompany a loss of the state’s brucellosis-free classification, which temporarily happened to several Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem states, including Montana, about a decade ago. Bill proponents counter that the current brucellosis protocols imposed by the state are at best redundant with existing federal protocols — the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also tests the animals — and unnecessary at worst. To support their

R E D N U L L A T I FIND

position, they point to the fact that there’s never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission between a bison and a cow in the wild, and note that elk throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are also brucellosis carriers. It’s senseless, they maintain, to focus all disease containment efforts on bison while sparing elk from similar treatment. Montana Department of Livestock State Veterinarian Martin Zaluski confirms that the known wildlife-to-cattle transmissions in Montana have come from elk, not bison, but said he regards that as a reflection of limited exposure — proof that current brucellosis protocols for bison are working. As Zaluski sees it, there are three potential paths out of the current management framework, which costs the state about $1.8 million annually to

implement: federal and state agencies stop treating brucellosis as a regulated disease that requires such close monitoring, scientists develop a “perfect” brucellosis vaccine for livestock, or researchers find a better brucellosis vaccine and delivery method for wildlife. “Until that happens we’re going to have to keep testing cattle and domestic bison to make sure there hasn’t been a spillover event for infected wildlife in that area,” Zaluski told Montana Free Press. Zaluski was joined by two other bill opponents during the hearings for HB 311 and HB 312: the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. Those groups focused their testimony on brucellosis risk and the potential financial impacts to the livestock industry. Dennis Jorgensen, bison pro-

gram manager for the World Wildlife Fund’s Great Plains Program, said the Fort Peck Tribes have “addressed every standard and achieved every milestone required of them.” As a testament to that, the ITBC coordinated the transfer of 40 wild, brucellosis-free bison from the Fort Peck facility to 16 Native nations across the U.S. for the first time last summer. The transfer was a milestone for the ITBC, which has been working toward that goal for nearly 30 years. Jorgensen said the success of that effort underscores the Fort Peck Tribes’ readiness to play a greater role in the management of Yellowstone bison, which are particularly important to tribes because of the animals’ lineage. (They’ve never been interbred with cattle and still demonsee Farm & Ranch page 24

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March 31, 2021 - 19


Smile for the camera

PHOTOS BY KAREN PETERSON / VALLEY JOURNAL

Sheep enjoy the sunshine on a bright Sunday afternoon on a farm in St. Ignatius.

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• Boundaries • Subdivisions • Site Plans • Mapping 406-883-1727 406-885-6727 P.O. Box 531 • Polson, MT 59860 20 - March 31, 2021

Mission Valley Power would like to remind everyone that intends to burn grass or fields, to pick days that are not too windy. If you are burning near a power pole, we advise you to cut or pull high weeds around it first. It’s the smart thing to do! This precaution will prevent power outages should the pole catch fire. We advise you to call your local fire department before burning.

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March 31, 2021 - 21


MSU researcher aids discovery of new wild bee virus By Reagan Colyer, MSU News Service

MONTANA — In an international collaborative effort, researchers at Montana State University co-discovered a virus that infects bees, including both native mining bees and honeybees. The new virus was named Andrena associated bee virus-1, or AnBV-1, since it was most prevalent in mining bees, part of the family Andrena. Michelle Flenniken, an associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology in MSU’s College of Agriculture, worked with researchers

22 - March 31, 2021

COURTESY PHOTO

from Israel, who collected more than 1,300 bee specimens from 14 sites

in the central part of that country. The two most abundant bee species col-

lected were mining bees and honeybees. “Most bee-associated

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viruses are known as ‘honeybee viruses’ in recognition of the host from which they were first discovered and described,” write the authors of a paper, published February 12 in the journal Viruses, announcing the discovery. “Sequencing a greater variety of bee and other insect species indicates that many honeybee-infecting viruses have a broader host range that includes other bees, as well as other insects.” Mining bees, said Flenniken, can be found all over the world, including in the U.S. They are much smaller than honeybees or bumblebees and do not live in nests.

Instead, they burrow in the ground, living alone or in small groups. They forage on a variety of flowering plants, whereas other species specialize on particular plants, like mustard or canola. “It’s not that surprising that we discovered a new virus because bee virology is an under-explored area of research,” said Flenniken, who co-discovered Lake Sinai virus 2, another bee-infecting virus, while doing postdoctoral research at the University of California San Francisco. “Viruses that affect bees have a wider host range than see next page


Bees from Farm & Ranch page 22

mammalian-infecting viruses, and this broader host range necessitates the study of multiple co-foraging bee species, because viruses can be transmitted between bee species via shared floral resources.” It is unclear what the impact of AnBV-1 is on bee health, but it’s something Flenniken plans to study. In the meantime, she said, the new virus isn’t cause for immediate concern. It is likely that insects have evolved alongside the virus, just as humans have the common cold. Like many bee-associated viruses, AnBV-1

Knowledge about the impact of a virus, even at the cellular level, could help lead to strategies that help mitigate colony losses that are associated with viruses.” - Michelle Flenniken, an associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology in MSU’s College of Agriculture

doesn’t have outwardly obvious symptoms and was identified through RNA sequencing of samples taken from the bees collected in Israel. One of the most important impacts of the newly identified virus, Flenniken said, is the opportunity it presents for further study.

“Knowledge about the impact of a virus, even at the cellular level, could help lead to strategies that help mitigate colony losses that are associated with viruses,” she said. “Virus-host interactions are natural, common and prevalent, and most of the time a healthy host can clear a viral infection

easily. It is important to do research aimed at understanding naturally evolved bee antiviral defense mechanisms, so that we can understand other stressors that perturb the bees’ natural ability to fight off virus infections.” Prevalence and transmission of viruses like

AnBV-1 could also potentially be lessened by land management strategies that enhance floral diversity, write the authors of the paper. The greater variety and abundance of flowers available for pollinators, the lower the chance that they will encounter a flower that was recently visited by an infected bee. “That could be an important reason to promote ecological diversity and, by extension, help promote bee health,” said Flenniken. Now that the virus has been identified, members of the Pollinator Health Center, which includes research scientists across multiple disciplines as well as graduate and undergraduate students,

plan to further study its impacts on bee health at the cellular and individual levels. In collaboration with Charles Carey, a bioinformatics specialist and associate member of the Pollinator Health Center, Flenniken and her collaborators will examine bee genetic sequence archives and frozen bee specimens to see if AnBV-1 is present in bees from other locations, including Montana. “Further study will be more at the individual bee level, which is both interesting and important,” Flenniken said. “It helps us narrow a little bit the actual real-life effects of this new virus.”

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March 31, 2021 - 23


News from the Office of the Governor

MONTANA — Governor Greg Gianforte issued an executive order on Friday, March 26, that temporarily suspends hours of service regulations for certain carriers to facilitate and expedite the delivery of fertilizer to Montana’s farmers. The order is effective from April 1 to June 6. Agriculture producers regularly face a compressed spring planting schedule due to late snowfalls and wet conditions which increase the demand for anhydrous ammonia and fertilizer across the state. Waiving hours of service requirements ensures that fertilizer haulers can meet the needs of the industry by delivering greater volumes in a short timeframe. “We need to do everything we can so Montana farmers can get in the field to plant and produce their

Bison from Farm & Ranch page 19

strate the wild behaviors of their free-roaming ancestors.) “There is no question thatFort Peck Tribes are prepared to manage all phases of quarantine associated with brucellosis, and that the necessary protocols are in place and are always followed to the letter of all agreements with the state of Montana, USDA APHIS, and Yellowstone National Park,” Jorgensen said. Whether lawmakers will agree is still in question, and it’s not lost on Weatherwax that his proposals will face 24 - March 31, 2021

crops when they need to,” Gianforte said. “Limiting access to necessary inputs threatens their effective, timely planting. Today’s executive action halts regulations so our farmers can receive needed fertilizer without unnecessary delay.” “Every day counts for Montana’s farmers, and farm inputs like fertilizer are crucial to the success of their operations,” said Mike Foster, Director of Montana Department of Agriculture. “The Governor’s decision to waive hours of service regulations this spring guarantees that our producers have what they need to get out in the field and plant as soon as the conditions are right for them to do so.” The order pertains only to carriers actively involved in transporting anhydrous ammonia and requires haulers to operate safely and prudently.

significant challenges in the coming days. In his closing statement to lawmakers, Weatherwax’s face conveyed the smallest of smiles when he thanked the committee for hearing him out on “these two scary bills.” The remark draws into focus what could be the largest hurdle before the ITBC: policymakers’ comfort with the idea of rewilding bison. The House Agriculture Committee tabled House Bill 311 and House Bill 312 during its Feb. 23 meeting. With a transmittal deadline on March 3, they are unlikely to be revived during this legislative session.

Resolution passes in support of Taiwan News from the Montana House of Representatives Majority

MONTANA — The Montana House of Representatives passed Senate Joint Resolution 9 (on second reading) which reaffirms the friendship and trade relations between Montana and Taiwan. The Resolution also expresses support for Taiwan’s recognition in international affairs. The Resolution passed the House unanimously after passing the Senate unanimously last month. It is sponsored by Senator Greg Hertz (R-Polson) and was carried by Speaker Wylie Galt (R-Martinsdale) in the House. “Montana and Taiwan have a long history as trade partners, especially with agriculture exports,” Speaker

111 3rd Ave.E Polson, MT 59860 406-319-2229

Galt said Tuesday. “It was an honor to meet with Director General Chen today to discuss growing our trade relations in the future for the mutual benefit of our economies. I will continue seeking opportunities to open new markets for Montana’s ag producers.” Director General Daniel K.C. Chen and other representatives of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle visited Montana to meet with state government and industry leaders, including House and Senate Leadership. “The 36-year friendship between Taiwan and Montana has been a model of a great partnership working together for the mutual betterment of our citizens,” said Senator Hertz.

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March 31, 2021 - 25


USDA pandemic assistance will open billions for Montana ag producers News from the Office of Jon Tester

MONTANA — U.S. Senator Jon Tester released the following statement after the United States Department of Agriculture announced that billions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding will be opened up to bring critical financial assistance to agricultural producers impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions: “This announcement is welcome news to Montana farmers and ranchers who have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis. I’m happy to see that this money will be put to good use, giving more flexibility to producers and investing in Montana’s ag priorities. I’m proud to have worked to secure this funding, especially as the American Rescue Plan begins delivering critical support

directly to Montana cities, towns, and counties. This infusion of resources will be a boon to our rural communities where agriculture — our state’s largest industry — will play an essential role in helping our economy bounce back from this crisis.” The Pandemic Assistance for Producers program will benefit Montana producers in four parts. Part one: investing $6 billion to expand help and assistance to more producers. USDA will dedicate at least $6 billion to develop a number of new programs or modify existing proposals using coronavirus relief funding. Where rulemaking is required, it will commence this spring. These efforts will include assistance for programs including: costs for organic certification or to continue or add conser-

vation activities; timber harvesting and hauling; and improving the resilience of the food supply chain, including assistance to meat and poultry operations to facilitate interstate shipment. Part two: adding $500 million of new funding to existing programs. USDA expects to begin investing approximately $500 million in expedited assistance through several existing programs this spring. This new assistance includes measures like: $100 million in additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service, which enhances the competitiveness of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops; $100 million in additional funding for the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, administered by the AMS

and Rural Development, which supports the development, coordination and expansion of direct producer-to-consumer marketing, local and regional food markets, and enterprises and value-added agricultural products; and approximately $80 million in additional payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton based on a formula set in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 that USDA plans to deliver through the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills program. Part three: carrying out formula payments under CFAP 1, CFAP 2, CFAP AA: an increase in CFAP one payment rates for cattle. Cattle producers with approved CFAP one applications will automatically receive these payments beginning in April. Information on the ad-

2021 DEFENDER LINE UP 26 - March 31, 2021

ditional payment rates for cattle can be found on farmers.gov/cfap. Eligible producers do not need to submit new applications, since payments are based on previously approved CFAP 1 applications. USDA estimates additional payments of more than $1.1 billion to more than 410,000 producers, according to a mandated formula. Additional CFAP assistance of $20 per acre for producers of eligible crops identified as CFAP 2 flat-rate or price-trigger crops beginning in April. This includes alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat, among other crops. FSA will automatically issue payments to eligible price trigger and flat-rate crop producers based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP 2 applications.

Eligible producers do not need to submit a new CFAP 2 application. For a list of all eligible row-crops, visit farmers.gov/cfap.USDA estimates additional payments of more than $4.5 billion to more than 560,000 producers, according to a mandated formula. USDA will finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications and begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of the CFAP Additional Assistance program. Part four: reopening CFAP 2 sign-up to improve access: USDA will re-open sign-up for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning on April 5. FSA has committed at least $2.5 million to establish partnerships and direct outreach efforts intended to improve outreach for CFAP 2.

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August 11, 2018 • 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS. 66979 US-93, Ronan 406-644-2950


Ready to work

KAREN PETERSON / VALLEY JOURNAL

Tractors wait at the edge of a field, ready for work.

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March 31, 2021 - 27


28 - March 31, 2021

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Profile for Valley Journal

Farm & Ranch 2021  

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