Karen Yost has received the 2020 Agricultural Excellence Award sponsored by Stockman Bank  on behalf of the Billings Chamber of Commerce. Karen Yost is Vice President of Nutra-Lix, Inc., a family owned business in Billings serving Montana agriculture.

Yost is a member of and a past president of both Montana Agri-Women and American Agri-Women and is a member of several other agriculture industry organizations.

 This award is presented to an individual, organization or family who has made a significant impact in the local agriculture industry. Yost is a longtime advocate of the agricultural industry and was a clear and fitting choice among a competitive field of nominees, stated the Chamber’s announcement regarding her award.

Yost was presented with the award by the Billings Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Ag Committee Chair Tierani Brusett of Stockman Bank, and Courtney Kibblewhite of Northern Broadcasting.

Yost will be celebrated during the Chamber’s inaugural Ag Celebration Week presented by Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative from January 24-30.

Yost has always been deeply involved in the agriculture industry. She was raised on the three generation Frank family farm in Park City, and was highly influenced by her father. She was active in the J-Quarter Circle Ranch raising and training Quarter horses and competing in AQHA horse shows and rodeos in high school, college, and into her adult life.

Yost was first runner-up to Miss Rodeo Montana in 1967 and crowned Miss Montana in 1968. After receiving her Bachelor of Science in education from Eastern Montana College, she taught for several years until staying home to raise and homeschool her children.  She established and operated “The Family Farm”, a hands-on operation intended to introduce city dwellers to life on the farm.

Yost is a member and a past president of both Montana Agri-Women and American Agri-Women and is a member of several other agriculture industry organizations. She is passionate about preserving the American rural lifestyle and focuses on urban and rural communication.  She believes that the family farm is the backbone of the country providing stability that is vital.

Yost and her husband George, along with their daughters Katie Yost and Kellie Kittelmann, own and operate Nutra-Lix, Inc., a feed supplement company George helped found in 1987. They have four grown children and eight grandchildren, are active in rodeo and team roping, and operate Yost Arena west of Billings.

By Johnny Kampis, The Center Square

President-elect Joe Biden’s broadband plan indicates he will push for more government-owned (taxpayer-funded) internet networks, which would be bad news for taxpayers.

[The issue will be taken up by the Montana State Legislature.]

Biden’s agenda, released on his website during his presidential campaign, talks in detail about his broadband goals. That includes expanding broadband to every American, which could include wireless broadband through the deployment of 5G.

The most alarming part of the plan: Biden says he will task the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “to support cities and towns that want to build municipally-owned broadband networks.” This means that taxpayers will be on the hook for these systems.

A Democratic task force put together by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to largely undo much of what was accomplished by Chairman Ajit Pai under the Trump administration, including reversing the agency’s stance on government broadband.

“Democrats will take action to prevent states from blocking municipalities and rural co-ops from building publicly-owned broadband networks, and increase federal support for municipal broadband,” the recommendations released by that task force this summer state.

But the list of such projects that were tried and failed are quite long. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance highlighted many of them in its May report “GON with the Wind: The Failed Promise of Government Owned Networks Across America.” More follies are noted on TPA’s “Broadband Boondoggles.”

Jeffrey Westling, a fellow in innovation and technology policy at R Street Institute, told TPA that government can help usher in infrastructure growth in other ways, such as loosening regulations and offering incentives to private providers to aid expansion to high-cost areas such as rural America. That’s a better plan than promoting municipal broadband, he said.

“There’s a better way of doing this that doesn’t put taxpayers at risk,” Westling said.

U.S. Telecom: The Broadband Association agrees with Westling. In its agenda for the next administration’s first 100 days, the organization lays out its wish list for the goal of connecting every American with broadband.

This includes addressing “antiquated policies” that harm broadband deployment and discourage competition. U.S. Telecom said the administration can work to eliminate high pole attachment rates, help expedite permitting processes and lift mandates that companies must sustain outdated networks rather than devote more resources to deploying the next generation of networks.

U.S. Telecom also said Congress should fund the Broadband Data Act so the FCC can create better broadband maps to ensure taxpayer resources are better targeted toward unserved and underserved areas. The group also rejects any proposal that would treat broadband as a government utility and the potential red tape that could ensue.

“All policies should be viewed with an eye toward removing barriers that impede getting broadband to everyone,” the U.S. Telecom agenda states.


Editor’s Note: Will government controlled broadband be less prone to censorship and communication  barriers than is the current monoply status that government has granted to the big tech companies in the US?

Believe it or not, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Dec. 29 announced that it was going to impose new fees on distilleries and other facilities that rushed to the rescue of a COVID –stricken nation by producing hand sanitizers. The FDA backed off the proposed tax only when the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) told them to.

HHS explained that only the FDA has the authority to issue such rules. While HHS administration said that the industry should be thanked rather than taxed, it chastised FDA primarily for having failed to go through the proper regulatory processes. The incident is a reminder about the true nature of government and regulatory controls.

Brian Harrison, HHS Chief of Staff, issued a statement that they have withdrawn the Notice published in the Federal Register,  OTC Monograph Drug Facility Fees and directed FDA to cease enforcement of these fees. 

Early in the COVID-19 crisis many small businesses across the country joined the fight to combat the virus which included distilleries that augmented their operations to produce hand sanitizer, an important asset in the battle to deter the spread of COVID.

In March, the FDA issued a guidance document – the Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-19) – which provides flexibility for those entities capable of producing hand sanitizer to rapidly enter the market.

By Nicole Rolf and Rachel Cone

The 67th Montana Legislature convened Jan. 4 in Helena. For those who follow the process from home, this year’s mixed-format session, or “hybrid”, will offer an opportunity for remote and virtual participation in the lawmaking process.

In addition to giving legislators the choice between participating in person or from a remote location, the option to testify through electronic means opens the doors for farmers and ranchers from remote corners of our state to participate, regardless of winter feeding, calving or inclement weather. In this, our first weekly Boots on the Hill column, we’ll outline how you can participate.

For Montana Farm Bureau lobbyists working in Helena, this session comes with many changes. COVID-19-related precautions mean each committee will meet a little differently than usual, but they have put protocols in place to carry out the important work of the people and still allow public input. Depending on the size of the room in which the committee meets, they may allow a limited number of non-committee members into the room to testify and watch from the audience. In smaller meeting rooms, members of the public are allowed inside to testify and then exit the room because limited space does not allow seating. Committees are also hearing testimony virtually. 

Much of the legislative process remains the same, especially for folks who do not usually spend time in Helena. Anyone can visit the Legislative webpage, leg.mt.gov/, to find a listing of your elected officials, to view all the bills that have been introduced and to track where the bills are in the legislative process. What’s unique this year is the button in the middle of the website’s home page: “Request to testify remotely/testify remotely.” Though this portal, you can locate the bill you are interested in following and submit written testimony or schedule a virtual testimony. These must be scheduled 24 hours in advance. You can also call the Legislative Hotline to leave messages for legislators at (406) 444-4800.

While it is important to have a relationship with your own legislators, they may not be on the committee that most pertains to issues you care about. You may wish to familiarize yourself with legislators who serve on relevant committees including but not limited to: agriculture, natural resources, fish and wildlife and taxation. 

We have started tracking bills and testifying on behalf of our farming and ranching members. Each week for the next 90 days, you can look for our update on bills we’re working, as directed by the Farm Bureau member-written policy we represent.

Here’s the first bill we’re supporting this Session:

Senate Bill 65: Revise civil liability laws, introduced by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R), SD10. Farm Bureau member policy supports. This bill limits liability to the owners of a premise if a person comes there and is infected with COVID-19, as long as that owner was not negligent. This bill is primarily intended to protect business owners, which would of course include farms and ranches.

Nicole Rolf is the Director of National Affairs and a rancher from Miles City, Montana.  Nicole works closely with our Congressional delegation on national issues affecting Montana agriculture. Additionally, this is her seventh Montana Legislative Session, lobbying in Helena on behalf of MFBF members. She also works as the Eastern Montana Regional Manager. Nicole can be contacted at nicoler@mfbf.org.

Rachel Cone is the Director of State Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation. She also coordinates the MFBF Water Committee, the Resource Management, Environment and Technology Committee and the Livestock Committee in addition to being the Treasurer for the Farm Bureau PAC. Rachel can be contacted at rachelc@mfbf.org.

Montana businesses no longer have to operate within constrained hours and reduced capacity because of COVID-19, by order of Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday. The order eliminates the restraints imposed mid-November by former Government Steve Bullock. Gianforte said the order becomes effective within 48 hours of Tuesday afternoon, and it follows the rescinding, last week, of local mandates by Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton.

The loosening of restrictions is being made possible by the arrival of vaccines and the decline in the number of new COVID cases in the state.

Gov. Bullock’s orders had required restaurants, bars, casinos, distilleries, etc. to operate at 50 percent capacity and to close at 10 pm. Felton had extended the limit in Yellowstone County on hours of business to all businesses, but with both state and local orders rescinded businesses in Yellowstone County may now operate at full capacity and at whatever hours they choose.

Gianforte said that previous mandates “unduly restricted” restaurants, bars and casinos. Capacity directives were arbitrary, he said, and the restrictions were complicated and confusing. He said that he heard “loud and clear” from business owners that the directives were “too complex, difficult to implement and arbitrary.”

He said that his goal in issuing the COVID directives was to reduce the burden on businesses while simultaneously reducing risks of spreading the virus. The new rules are simple and common sense, he said. They are outlined on three pages while the previous rules were 25 pages long.

 Businesses are to follow “best practices” and urged to develop policies that continue to ensure the health and safety of their customers and employees.

“We will continue to make common sense steps,” said Gianforte, saying that he encourages everyone to continue to wear masks and that he  is “looking forward to the day when we can remove them.”

Last week, Gianforte said that changes to mask mandates not would be made until vaccinations have been given to the most vulnerable in the state, and a bill is on his desk from the state legislature that provides protection from COVID-19 lawsuits for businesses, schools and non-profits. That bill is winding its way through the state legislature.

At that time, he also explained that the first people to get the vaccine were to be health care providers and those most vulnerable, in an effort to keep hospitals and deaths at a minimum. At that time he identified two categories of priority vaccine recipients. In the press conference on Wednesday he said most of those in the first category – 1A – have already received the vaccine and most of those in the second category – 1B – should have received vaccinations by the end of January.

Montana is ranked ninth in terms of how quickly and efficiently the vaccines are being delivered and administered. “We have over 70,000 first doses,” he said, which is in excess of the number needed to serve the first category. By next week, most communities will move into the treating those in the 1B category.

New deliveries of the vaccines are being made weekly.

If you’d like to let your legislator know what you think you can offer testimony virtually. Legislative Services created a platform to submit testimony and receive a Zoom link. All you have to do is navigate to leg.mt.gov and click on the “HAVE YOUR SAY MONTANA” speech bubble icon. Follow the directions provided and make sure you submit everything by noon the day prior to the hearing.  When you log onto the Zoom meeting, your camera and audio will be turned off. Once the chair calls for proponent and opponent testimony, you can click the “Raise Hand” button and wait for staff to turn your audio on. At which point you can give your testimony. Be sure to stick around in case members of the committee have questions for you.

By Evelyn Pyburn

It’s one of those cases where a Montanan wanted to come back home.

Dan Burgess and his wife, Tina, are opening in Billings the second location of a business they started in order to make their home in Montana. Featuring a unique physical fitness program they have opened Lagree MT Fitness Studio in Shiloh Commons, right next door to Sophie’s. They opened their first location in Missoula just over a year ago, which has been successful beyond their greatest expectations.

A graduate of Senior High School and the University of Montana, Burgess has had opportunities to explore many other parts of the country. He and Tina decided to make their home in Denver, where they became the parents of two children, and where both were engaged in lucrative jobs.

Tina, from Texas, had ample opportunity to become acquainted with Montana as they returned frequently to visit Dan’s parents and friends.

On one of those trips, they left the kids with Grandma and Grandpa and headed to one of their favorite get-a-ways, Chico Hot Springs. On the drive, Tina asked, “Why don’t we live here?” They had come to realize that while their jobs paid well, both “hated” their jobs, and Dan especially hated his daily two-hour commute to work. Their children were getting older and Dan wanted to be more involved with them. As a former football and basketball player, he wanted to be a volunteer coach for his kids and to be able to have time to take his family on outings in the summer – like going on a river float.

“We would have to start our own business,” was Dan’s reply to Tina’s question, because there just wasn’t the opportunity in Montana for the kind of jobs they had. The problem with starting their own business was a lack of “seed capital,” he said.

But, they did have seed capital, pointed out Tina – they had their house in Denver which had escalated in value beyond their wildest imagination. Hmmm, that’s something Dan figured he should have been first to think of, with a degree in financing and a masters from Simon Business School of the University of Rochester. But then, Tina, has her own business marketing degree from the University of San Diego.

Taking their resources into account, the couple started researching what kinds of business that would be successful in Montana. The potential they found in becoming licensed to operate Lagree Fitness studios fit the bill. Lagree is a workout program that brings a new level to health and fitness workouts and to physical training. While its founder, Sebastian Lagree, based the program on pilates it has evolved far beyond pilates, into a distinctively unique fitness technique that automatically customizes to the abilities and needs of each person, young or old, men and women, alike. The company has licensed upward of 500 business locations around the world.

Utilizing a piece of equipment called the Megaformer, highly trained coaches oversee regularly scheduled classes of “High Intensity Low Impact Full Body Muscular Endurance Training.”

The key to the workouts is a focus on perfect form, slow movements and no momentum, emphasized Dan, who oversees the staffing, training and financial end of the business. Each 45 minute workout utilizing “spring based tension,” exercises the whole body and builds, as an individual’s own strength builds. While training is conducted in groups, it’s still personalized, which is what their stringent training of coaches emphasizes, unlike most other group training, said Dan.

The exercises build cardio, muscular, core, flexibility and strength, and it takes about three sessions before an individual starts to “get it” and to feel the improvements. Because of that, Dan is currently offering anyone who wants to try, to participate in the first three sessions at no charge. All they need to do is go to the Lagree MT website, add the “BLGS – Intro 3 Pack” to their cart and type in the Promo Code “SHILOH3”.

The exercises have no high impact on joints and is easily adaptable to a person’s limitations or strengths. It can be used for regaining strength after a surgery or training for “pro-day.” It can be used by people like his mother, said Dan, just as much as high tier athletes. “The workout gets harder as you get stronger.”

Dan guarantees that no matter what regime an athlete is undertaking, Lagree will advance it in ways that always surprises. In fact, he says, with a knowing smile, guys who think they are in great shape, often make the mistake of thinking that if women can do it, it will be easy for them.

Classes are typically held before and after work hours, and during the noon hour. They quickly filled classes in Missoula relying mostly upon word-of- mouth. Their business remained viable despite the COVID regulations that forced them to close for 80 days, and which has discouraged some people from returning to regular exercising routines. Classes are beginning to fill up in Billings, too.

The COVID crisis did pause Dan and Tina in their expansion efforts. They had planned to open their second location during the summer. Eventually, they expect to have several locations in Montana with Missoula and Billings being their “bookends”.

Dan said they were excited being able to open in Shiloh Commons. Tina, it turns out, is very creative with a hammer, saw and paint brush. She has designed and furnished Lagree MT with a sharp, clean Industrial Modern theme, punctuated with several pieces of furniture that she also built, often using recycled materials.

In addition to those talents, she also oversees marketing for the company and oversees their online presence and social media.

Lagree MT employs five people in Missoula on a contract basis and have added three more in Billings, with the likelihood of adding another two or three in the near future.

Yellowstone County and the City of Billings are exploring in earnest the possibility of consolidating local government offices in the Stillwater Building.

On Monday, County Commissioners asked County Finance Director Kevan Bryan to research the feasibility of the county purchasing a portion of the Stillwater Building, and to present commissioners a report on January 22. His research should also include other options that might serve the county’s future growth and space needs

Kevin Iffland, Assistant City Administrator, who heads a committee to do much the same for the city, said they remain interested in a proposal they received about a year and a half ago from WC Commercial the company that owns the Stillwater Building. The Stillwater Building is a five-story building at 316 N. 26th in downtown Billings, formerly known as the James F. Battin Building. Several departments of county government currently occupy part of the third floor under a lease with the company that owns the building WC Commercial headed by Joe Holden.

A few weeks ago, Holden sent a letter to the city and the county saying he wanted to sell the property and asking for $24 million.

The county and city will initiate the process of getting appraisals on the building. Iffland said that he is sending WC Commercial a letter this week announcing their interest and asking permission to conduct appraisals, which would probably not be completed until near the end of February at the earliest.

Commissioner John Ostlund initiated a conversation about the need to develop a plan for their future needs with other commissioners and department heads during a discussion meeting. He underscored the wisdom of making plans now for the future of what they know will eventually be a need for more space. Both the county attorney’s office and courts are working in crowded spaces, said Ostlund, and both will need more space as “felony cases have went off the charts. “We know at some point we will be booted out of the court house.”  Eventually, he said, he believes that the Courthouse will be a building dedicated to courts and the justice system.

Ostlund said that he thought that the county would be interested in no more than two floors and would probably want to “condo” them, but whether that is the case will be part of the feasibility study. He said that they will also be looking at the possibility of purchasing the Miller Building which is available for sale. It is where City/County Planning offices are housed and includes parking.

Iffland said that the city, too, is looking at other options but they aren’t “super looking”, just wanting to be aware of their options.

Ostlund said that the county plans to acquire whatever they need without having to ask for any tax increases. He said that the county had already set aside some capital funds for remodeling existing space or acquiring new that has not been used, and there are other capital reserves that can be pulled together which will most likely meet their financial needs.

The city would want the rest of the building that the county does not take, including basement and main floor and upper two floors. “We are in dire need of law  and justice center space, and secondly, other city offices. Planning and community development and public works are in leased buildings and we would like to consolidate.

While there are sure to be benefits and cost savings for the city and county to do the purchase jointly, the real beneficiaries, said Iffland, will be the citizens in having all local government offices located in one area.

From the Northern Ag Network

A 2-year large-scale trial in beef cattle in Alberta, Canada has successfully demonstrated that a novel feed ingredient, developed by Royal DSM, can be included in commercial feedlot diets to reduce methane emissions by up to 80%, without negative effects on animal health and performance parameters and carcass characteristics, according to the company.

This was the largest and longest trial for methane reduction in beef to date. The trial alone already reduced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 1,473 tonnes CO2e. This is comparable to taking 500 cars off the road for a year.

The trial was conducted by a Canadian Research Consortium consisting of Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, Feedlot Health Management Services, Viresco Solutions, and DSM Nutritional Products, and with support from the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association. Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) committed $1.5 million to this $3 million project through its Methane Challenge.

The project was recognized for having positive implications for the province due to the fact 70% of Canada’s cattle production happens in Alberta. With ~15,000 heads of beef included in the trial, it represents the largest single trial conducted on methane reduction technologies for ruminants. Methane emission from ruminants represents a significant portion of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change. Royal DSM, a global science-based company active in health, nutrition and sustainable living, has developed a feed ingredient to reduce enteric methane formation in ruminants by over 30% on average. The ingredient is scientifically called 3-NOP and is considered a breakthrough technology that inhibits methane formation in the rumen of cattle

By Lowell Cooke, Coldwell Banker The Brokers

Despite Covid 19, Billings real estate can be summed up as a year of broken records:

Highest average sales price:  $291,505

Most # of homes sold: 3397

Total $ volume closed: Almost a Billion!  $990,242,756, shattering 2019’s record year by

  $181 million, over 22%.

(Billings MLS statistics encompasses a large area and actual Billings areas account for approximately 70% of these numbers.)

Declining Number of Homes For Sale Continues

The December home inventory slid to a historically low level of 295 homes on the market.  This compares to an average of around 800 homes for years 2017-2019, or about 60% fewer homes on the market.  As of January 13, 2021, there were 156 single family homes for sale in the Billings market. (Not including surrounding areas.)  Covid 19 seems to still be affecting this low inventory.

Sales Outpace Listings

The limited number of homes on the market can also be attributed to a greater number of homes being sold verses the number of homes being listed.  The last four months of 2020 accounted for 1250 homes being sold compared to 1018 being listed.  This means the existing inventory was getting sold.  With fewer homes coming on the market, the “seasoned” or overpriced homes most likely saw price reductions which resulted in sales.

Low Inventory-Higher Average Sales Prices

As mentioned earlier, the year over year average sales price in 2020 was $291,505.  This was an incredible increase of over $24,000 in one year, or a 9% increase in average value.  Our office, Coldwell Banker the Brokers, does its own inhouse statistics of just the Billings area and the median sales price in December 2020 was $263,000 compared to $247,700 in 2019.  This is slightly above 6% for the median sales price in 2019.

Sales Distribution By Sales Price Range

The Coldwell Banker the Brokers inhouse “Current Market Trends,” shows 58% of Billings sales in 2020 were between $176,000-$325,000, with the largest percentage of sales between $226k-$275,000, making up 23%.  The chart shows the sales distribution by price range.  Interestingly, there were 79 homes sold over $600,000.  Billings current “months supply of homes” is just over one month.  A market supply is “in balance” when the months supply is six months.  Below six months indicates a “sellers” market and above six months tends to be a “buyers’ market.  Consequently, overall, Billings is definitely in a sellers’ market, unless you are in the $700,000+ range, where the “months supply” is eight months.

New Single-Family Construction On the Rise?

2020 residential building permits in Billings (those serviced by Billings City Services, not subdivisions with their own private water or sewage systems) surged 26% from 2019 and was the highest number of permits issued since 2015.  In 2020, there were 344 residential permits compared to 273 in 2019.  2015 had 411 permits issued which was the highest number since 2007, when there were 427 issued.  The most prolific new construction year was 2003 with 601 permits issued.  There were several years of steady declines until finally bottoming out in 2011.

New single-family construction occurring outside the services of Billings is a little more difficult to pin down because new construction here does not require a building permit.  The best indication of how many new residences are constructed outside Billing but in Yellowstone county, is by new addresses, which are tracked by Yellowstone County GIS.  According to Mike Powell,  GIS Manger for Yellowstone County, here are the numbers of new residence addresses since 2015: 2015-208, 2016-258, 2017-188, 2018-236, 2019-632, 2020-271.

Except for 2019, new construction in Yellowstone county appears to be consistent, in the 250 range.  It must be noted, there are several new and newer subdivisions on the outskirts of Billings.  These newer subdivisions are usually one half acre and up and require a central water or sewer system, well and septic or a combination of both.  These areas seem to be attractive because of the larger lots and “country” feel.

What Does 2021 Look Like?

The most unscientific prediction I can make is for, at best, the first six months of this year.  It is my hope sellers will be increasingly more comfortable with putting their home up for sale as the vaccine for Covid 19 becomes more available.  If confidence in our safety and well-being are restored or at least somewhat eased, I think the inventory will begin to increase and bring some stability to prices.  This could make it a “win-win” scenario for buyers and sellers, given the interest rates should remain low (hopefully) through 2021.  Sellers will be able to sell for a good price and buyers will enjoy the lower interest rates.