Havre Daily News
Montanans need to work at keeping their kids and products in the state, state Department of Agriculture director Nancy Peterson told 20 members of the North Central Montana Cattle Women at the group's annual spring luncheon.
“We raise wheat and beef and ship it out of state. We educate our kids and ship them out of the state,” Peterson said Tuesday.
She also spoke about noxious weed efforts, CRP changes and animal identification options.
Peterson said producers need to “go full circle” with their products and stop shipping the majority out of the state to be processed.
“We need to bring it back home,” she said.
She said one way to retain high school and college graduates is to build biodiesel plants to employee them.
Peterson was raised in Hill County. She farmed and ranched in the county for about 30 years before being named ag director and moving to Helena. Peterson said she is proud that her kids and grandchildren are still living and working on the Hi-Line.
She said she needs feedback from those she serves.
“I work for you, folks. I work for the Montana taxpayers. I can't do my job unless you help me do my job,” she said.
Peterson said another thorn in the sides of Montanans is noxious weeds. She said the department spends $2.1 million a year fighting noxious weeds.
“It's not a farmer issue - it's an every-Montanan issue,” Peterson said.
Hill County has great noxious weed programs, she added.
The state is on the brink of going a different way with Conservation Reserve Program land, she said.
Of Hill County's 300,000 CRP acres, 70 percent of contracts will expire in the next couple of years. She said one change might be to use some of the land for renewable energy projects or biofuel production.
Peterson said another concern of her department is animal identification. Montana is one of 12 states that uses branding, which makes the cattle untraceable once they are shipped out of the state. One option is microchips, which are implanted in animals' ears and can be read with a wand-like device, she said.
Peterson said the need for such identification will be market driven and will come into play in the next few years. Japan prefers Canadian beef, even though Canada has had more cases of disease, because they use animal ID.
“Canada and Australia have taken over our trade with Japan,” she said. “Are we missing the market? You're darn right we are.”
Some of the women in attendance said they were unsure of the animal ID process because they want to know exactly who will be able to access the information.
Peterson said Montanans' independence is a mixed blessing. “We don't want nobody to know what we do or how we do it,” she said of the hesitance of ranchers to accept animal identification.
After the presentation, Peterson said one of the strengths of the agriculture industry is its independence.
“It was great to discuss the issues and great to be home,” she said.