Cattle are still king when it comes to total agriculture production in Montana. As a percentage of total revenue generated cattle production amounts to 56 percent with crops generating most of the balance. The market value of agricultural products sold was $3.5 billion with crop-related sales totaling $1.6 billion and livestock-related sales totaling $1.9 billion.

After subtracting production expenses of $3.3 billion, net cash income was $0.9 billion based upon most recent available data, in a study conducted by The Montana State University Agricultural Economics Department.

Agriculture has long been considered the foundation of the Montana economy. While other sectors of the economy, particularly tourism and business services, have become important to the state’s overall economy, agriculture remains critical to Montana, especially more rural areas of the state.

Agricultural Land Use

62% of the land in Montana is used for agricultural production. However, the percentage of land in agriculture varies from less than 3% in Mineral and Lincoln counties to nearly 100% in Big Horn, Liberty, Treasure, and Sheridan counties. There were 27,048 farms with a mean farm size of 2,758 acres in 2017.  Average farm size varied from less than 200 acres in Flathead, Mineral, and Ravalli and over 8,000 acres in Big Horn and Garfield counties.

Farm Revenue

The market value of agricultural products sold was $3.5 billion with crop-related sales totaling $1.6 billion and livestock-related sales totaling $1.9 billion.  Other income included on the farm’s profit and loss statement was government payments ($0.3 billion) and other farm related income ($0.4 billion).  After subtracting production expenses of $3.3 billion, net cash income was $0.9 billion in 2017.

Property Taxation

Montana farmers and ranchers owned property with a taxable value of $157 million in 2017.  The taxable value of agricultural property was less than 1% of all taxable property in Montana.  The share of taxable property held by farmers and ranchers varied widely by county from less than 1% in urban counties like Missoula, Flathead, Silver Bow, and Yellowstone to over 40% in rural counties such as Liberty, Daniels, McCone, Petroleum, and Garfield.

Market Value of Crops and Livestock from 1997 to 2017

After adjusting for inflation, the market value of crops and livestock increased by 14% and 28%, respectively, from 1997 to 2017.  The percentage change varied widely by county from increases of 68% or more in Carter and Treasure counties to decreases of 40% or more in counties with fewer farms and ranches, including Lincoln, Silver Bow, and Mineral. The share of market value for crops and livestock has remained relatively stable since 1997 with crop and livestock shares of 40% and 60%, respectively.  Grain (winter wheat, spring wheat, durum, and barley) comprised 31% of total market value, while cattle comprised 56% of total market value in 2017.

Farm Size

 Farm size remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2017 with 60% of farms with less than 500 acres and 40% of farms with 500 acres or more. Average farm size decreased by 20% or more in Glacier, Judith Basin, and Beaverhead; but, increased by 20% or more in Chouteau, Daniels, Liberty, Roosevelt, Deer Lodge, Big Horn, McCone, and Sanders counties.

The 2017 year was a challenging year with nearly three-fourths of Montana counties realizing less total farm sales in 2017 than 2012.  Average farm sales decreased by nearly 14% statewide.  Four counties (Prairie, Deer Lodge, Carbon, and Liberty) had average farm sales increase by 25%, while three counties (Petroleum, Daniels, and Mineral) had average farm sales decrease more than 40%

Tillage and Land Use

In 2017, no till was used by 16%, reduced tillage was used by 8%, intensive tillage was used by 10% and cover crops were used by 4% of farms.  More than 40% of farms utilize no-till in Liberty, Chouteau, Toole, Hill, Pondera, and Sheridan counties.  More than 20% of farms in Treasure and Sheridan counties utilize other reduced tillage methods.  Cover crops are less widely used; although, more than 7% of farms used cover crops in Treasure, Toole, and Jefferson counties.

Producer Profile

Deer Lodge, Meagher, Sanders, Daniels, Wheatland, Flathead, Jefferson, Ravalli, Lincoln, Golden Valley, Missoula, Musselshell, and Granite had more than 40% of producers 65 and older.  Judith Basin, Phillips, Carter, Hill, Fallon, Petroleum, Glacier, and Rosebud had less than 30% of producers 65 and older.  Thirty-two percent of producers were 65 or older, 58% were males, and 36% listed farming as their primary occupation in Montana.

Top Crops

Hay and winter, spring, and durum wheat account for 75% of harvested acreage.  The remainder of harvested acres is planted in barley, pulses (lentils, dry edible peas, chickpeas, and other pulse crops) and other crops, including oilseeds (canola, flaxseed, mustard, and safflower), corn for grain and silage, sugar beets, potatoes, and other minor crops.

The top 5 producing counties in 2017 for each of the major crop categories was the following:  hay – Fergus, Madison, Big Horn, Lake, and Judith Basin in 2017;  winter wheat  – Chouteau, Hill, Cascade, Teton, and Liberty; spring wheat – Chouteau, Hill, Valley, Toole, and Liberty counties; durum wheat – Sheridan, Daniels, Roosevelt, Pondera, and Hill counties; pulses – Sheridan, Hill, Chouteau, Roosevelt, and Toole counties; and, barley – Teton, Pondera, Chouteau, Toole, and Gallatin.

Montana is largely a grain and cattle state.  Over 40% of farms had cattle (and calves), 5% had sheep (and lambs), and less than 2% had hogs (and pigs) in 2017 .  The top 5 livestock producing counties were Beaverhead, Custer, Fergus, Carter, and Rosebud counties in 2017.

Job Impacts

Agricultural production employed 52,629 workers or 10% of the state’s labor force in 2017.  According to MSU, 31,924 of the workers were directly employed in production agriculture.  An additional 15,597 workers were employed in businesses supporting agricultural production, such as feed and fertilizer dealers, and another 3,980 were employed in other related businesses, such as grocery and drug stores.  For every 10 jobs on farms and ranches, 6 additional jobs are generated in Montana.

Direct and indirect employment in production agriculture was more than 60% of the labor force in Liberty, Treasure, Judith Basin, Carter, Prairie, and Chouteau counties (Map 9).  In more urban counties (Missoula, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Yellowstone, and Gallatin), direct and indirect employment in agricultural production was less 5% of the labor force.

Value Added Impacts

 Farms and ranches generated $2.2 billion of valued-added, or 4.6% of the state’s total gross domestic product of $47.6 billion in 2017.  According to the IMPLAN estimate, $1.1 billion was directly contributed by farmers and ranchers.  An additional $820 million was generated by businesses supporting agricultural production and $236 million was generated by other related businesses.  Each dollar of value-added in agriculture by a farmer or rancher contributed an additional $0.92 of value-added in other sectors of the state’s economy.

Direct and indirect value-added in production agriculture was more than 50% of county gross domestic product (GDP) in Prairie, Petroleum, Garfield and Carter counties (Map 10).  In more urban counties (Missoula, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Cascade, Yellowstone, and Gallatin), direct and indirect value-added in agricultural production was less 5% of county GDP.


Agricultural production varies substantially across Montana.  Land use patterns varied from counties with minimal arable land to counties with over three-fourths of the land area used in crop or livestock agriculture.  The Census Agriculture data showed minor changes in farm size (measured by acres and total sales) and profitability.  This economic impact analysis showed the importance of recognizing the diversity in Montana agriculture.


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