As Montana’s leading industry, agriculture contributed approximately $4.4 billion to our economy in 2018. Not only is Montana agriculture extremely important to our state’s financial system, it is also a large contributor to the agriculture industry on a national and global level.
So what does it really mean to be Montana’s #1 industry, and how does Ravalli County contribute?
Each county across the state of Montana is known for something uniquely Ag related. Whether that be different commodities, acreage used for raising crops, or even the number of organic farms in the area, Ravalli County is no different.
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the total market value of agricultural products sold in Montana was over $3.5 billion. Of that, Ravalli County contributed $42.6 million.
On a national level, our state ranks sixth for total number of beef cattle, fourth for wheat production, eleventh for total hay production (grass, alfalfa, etc.). Montana is also the top pulse crop (lentils, peas, beans) producing state in the country.
With about 66% of the land in Montana being used for agricultural purposes, we can confidently proclaim that Montana agriculture plays an important role in feeding our country.
What some would say makes Ravalli County agriculture unique is the large number of small family-owned farms throughout the valley.
While counties like Beaverhead County have 430 farms, averaging about 3,211 acres each, Ravalli County has 1,438 farms and ranches, the average size being only 163 acres. Along with these numbers, 98% of the farms in Ravalli County are classified as family-owned and operated.
This change may go hand-in-hand with the consumer’s increased interest in buying local and knowing their food’s origin. Right now may even be the perfect opportunity for small-scale producers and consumers in Ravalli County. Having trouble finding the right meat or produce at Costco? Want your kids to know exactly how the food they eat was produced? We live in the perfect place to get to know your farmer or rancher and buy local!
While driving down Eastside Highway in June between Corvallis and Stevensville, the diversity of agriculture in our valley is evident just after a few miles. Fields of alfalfa, fruit orchards, grazing cattle, local nurseries, and even people experimenting with nontraditional Montana crops such as hops are all things you will see after a 5-minute drive. While average farm or ranch sizes may be relatively small, agricultural diversity is huge in our valley and we have the tools and resources to continue growing a market for a wide range of locally sourced food.
Another point of discussion in the evolution of Ravalli County Ag is how technology has impacted the industry. While the number and size of farms in our area have slowly declined since the 1950s, we are producing more product with fewer resources than ever before.
In 1950, Ravalli County had about 65,000 acres of farmland. In 2018, it recorded having 58,000 acres. However, just because the amount of land being used for agricultural purposes has decreased, it does not mean production has gone down with it.
New technological advancements have allowed producers to become more efficient and produce more with less. According to the 2017 Montana Economic Report, if Montana farms and ranches were still using the same equipment and farming practices that they were in the 1950s, we would need to increase our acreage of wheat by 100%, and our number of cattle by 50% in order to meet the current demands producers are faced with due to our ever-growing population.
Those living in Ravalli County have the unique opportunity to easily get involved in the agriculture industry.
Whether that be getting more information about how to identify a noxious weed, learning about the role honey bees play in our valley or finding a local beef producer from where buy hamburger, there is always something new to learn or try.
If you are curious about how to become more educated on Ravalli County agriculture, there are so many resources for you to access. Ask your neighboring rancher to help move cows one day, or stop by the Extension office to learn more about educational opportunities available throughout our valley. We are here to help.
With the agriculture industry evolving more and more every day to meet increasing demands and become more efficient, it is more important than ever to stay educated about the industry that feeds, clothes and houses us.
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