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.

Conclusion

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.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Good grief. One can hardly imagine why anyone in the US can doubt the quality and dependability of services and products from the private sector – most especially when one compares it to how government performs. And, yet it is we have legislators and professionals and other leaders pushing back against private medical schools simply because they are “for profit.” Really!?

Following announcements by two private companies that intend to launch medical schools in Montana – one in Billings and another in Great Falls – comments emerged in the media from some people who were outraged at the very idea of “for profit” medical schools, including a Republican state legislator– Ed Buttrey, (R) – HD21 of Great Falls a Realtor also sits on the board of Benefis Healthcare.

With people like Mr. Buttrey refusing to defend “for profit” free markets, there’s no need for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to advocate for socialism. The situation fully demonstrates why so many people, especially the young, believe that socialism is a better system than free markets. It’s not because of what people like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez says, but what people like Mr. Buttrey fail to say.

For decades and decades our political leaders, who say they believe in the efficacy of free markets (ie. “for profits”), while campaigning, fail to support them once elected and even more damaging fail to explain what makes them better. Not only have they failed to make the case but so have our public schools and so have many parents, truth be told.

In fact, one could ask where are the voices of all the other political leaders and free marketers in this state who claim to support “for profits”? Where are the voices we need to explain why the “for profit” motive has proven to be a miraculous thing.

It’s been reported that “Benefis’ Dr. Patrick Galvas and Great Falls legislator Ed Buttrey slammed” the “business model” of the school proposed for Billings because it is a “for profit” entity, while the one proposed from Great Falls is a “non-profit.”

“In our opinion, medical education is not the place for the profit-driven motivations of a Wall Street-owned, for-profit medical school,” Galvas and Buttrey wrote.

So maybe that’s all this is about – a very self-serving effort to malign the competition. It’s an act of protectionism. That is in truth why most anti-market legislation emerges and what stands behind almost all the regulations that undermine free markets – established businesses attempting to protect themselves from competition.

This is a country where “for profit” is a good thing. Where “for profit” has built the strongest economy in all history, providing the highest standard of living average citizens have ever known, and in fact providing the world with phenomenal new technology and innovations beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. IT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF “FOR PROFIT” ENTERPRISES!

And, you don’t think a profit motive can incentivize a quality medical school? Making a profit is a far more wholesome incentive than climbing the political ladder, which is the primary incentive that permeates almost all government “enterprises” or bureaucracies. In exactly what discipline does government out-perform private business?

In fact our entire medical industry could do with a very healthy dose of free market competition and the injection of creative entrepreneurship. Our shortage of doctors is nothing new – we have been experiencing this shortage for decades and nothing changes. The reasons have primarily to do with the fact that the system is not market driven. The shortage of doctors is all about politics and power structures and the kind of “profits” that come much more easily to that system than to the private market. The medical industry is totally ensnarled in red tape and regulations… it is one of the least free markets in the country, hence we have not only a shortage of doctors but runaway medical costs.

Questioning the efficacy of education organizations because they hope to make a profit is nonsense.

We heard for years and years and years that private schools couldn’t compete with public or government schools. We don’t hear that much anymore. Not that there aren’t those who resist private education but it’s not because private schools aren’t good. There is no longer any question that not only are they good but most often are better. Do you know where President Obama’s girls went to school?

Or let’s look at the post office. There too we heard over and over again that we had to have a government run post office because the private sector could never do what the post office does. Nor, would anyone want to because they couldn’t make a profit. Have you heard of UPS? If there was no threat of the private sector delivering the mail…and maybe doing it better … there would be no laws against delivering first class mail.

The same is true about aerospace and only government could send up rockets. Many may not know, but at one time that too was illegal. Could I introduce you to SpaceX and Elon Musk or any of a dozen other companies?

Given the true history of the profit motive and the history of how “for profit” has built the greatest economic system ever and the highest ever standard of living for the common man, maybe it’s time to learn and understand why it works. And, to make sure our children know.

“Go Big! Impress Us!”

That was essentially the message that Kinetic Marketing and Creative, a Billings marketing firm, said they received in a survey of some 50 people in Billings about what they want to see evolve from the efforts to revitalize Metra Park. The company has been engaged to help gather public input regarding a major master planning of Metra Park that began a couple of years ago.

Not one person said “do nothing,” enthused Jennifer Owens about interviews with Billings’ notables, including county commissioners, city mayor, city administrator and others who have in the past been very involved in community endeavors. “They want to see the next level,” said Owens about the firm’s preliminary probe, in reporting to county commissioners and members of the Metra Park Advisory Board, last week. They want Metra Park to be “more modern, more exciting and have more diversity.”

 “The one thing that would be on my list is finding a way to create the Wow Factor,” said a respondent, while another said, “We should be creating experiences. Going to Metra should feel like a branded experience.”  In fact, Metra Park needs to do more branding of itself, was a reoccurring theme.

The meeting and a press conference served to launch a massive effort by the county to gather as much direction as possible about what the community wants to see for the future of Metra Park. “This is one of the most historic roll outs in Billings, “said Charlie Loveridge, Chairman of the Metra Park Advisory Board.

“What do we do to make Metra Park an iconic place?” they are asking the community.

Loveridge underscored the significance of the county-owned facility to the community stating that through its events it pumps $150 million annually into the community. And, for one reason or another, everyone in the community has some sort of connection to Metra Park, with many of those memories extending from childhood.

Kinetic will be producing informational materials that will help explain what has been accomplished so far, including outlining three concepts that resulted from the Master Plan developed with the assistance of Charlie Smith, a consultant from Knoxville, Tennessee. Advisory Board members and Kinetic staff will be holding informational meetings throughout the county over the next several months, answering questions and gathering comments. Information and comment opportunities will be available on-line as well.

A special meeting will be held on March 24, to which the Advisory Board will invite “legacy” board members, to introduce them to the proposals and to gather input from them.

Although there has been no decision yet, there is a possibility of putting a bond issue on the ballot in November. It has been roughly estimated the cost for the planned improvements could reach $70 million. But, said Loveridge, there is a lot of work to be done, including acquiring cost estimates and plans from architects, engineers, etc.

Prospects for a bond issue to rebuild Metra Park look good according to survey comments. When asked what bond issue would they support were there one for Metra and another for public safety for the City of Billings, more than half of the respondents said they would vote for both.

Said the study, “…most participants were comfortable with a large price tag for the Master Plan and a large bond question, so long as the vision is relevant to the county, inspirational and clearly able to benefit a wide variety of people.”

Said one respondent, “Just pass a bond that gives you what you need and quit nickel-and-diming us. I’d rather do one big one, get it done and be able to eyeball the benefits.”

Much has happened in the past year to prepare for an overhaul of the facility. Underground infrastructure such as water, sewer and electrical lines, etc. have been replaced and rebuilt for the first time in many decades. The carnival lot has had a facelift with new pavement. Aging and deteriorating buildings have been removed, leaving broad open spaces that has made many aware for the first time exactly how very big Metra Park really is. With 189 acres, the facility stands ready to be shaped for the future.

Taking into consideration how big Metra Park really is, there are many possibilities for how it can be used and there were many great ideas that came from the people interviewed, said Owen. The report said, “A strong and consistent theme from the interviews was a desire to see Metra Park be flexible and dynamic, able to capitalize on multiple opportunities and serve a wide variety of community needs. Accordingly, many participants expressed a desire to see any new facilities on the Metra Park campus be multi-use facilities that can cater to a variety of needs.”

“An outdoor amphitheater was often cited by participants as a favorite new amenity in the Master Plan concepts. At the same time, many noted the limited timeframe for outdoor events, as well as the belief that even an amphitheater should be designed and equipped for purposes other than just concerts.”

And, from almost everyone it was stated that Metra Park “should not lose its connection to agriculture. Agriculture is important to the community’s economy, culture and history. “I think it needs to support ag into the future, but I also think it needs to support the entire community. I think sometimes we get tunnel vision and believe that we have to promote just this ag building,” was one comment.

And to call it something more inclusive than just “the fair grounds” was also suggested. In fact, increasingly the term “Metra Park campus” was heard throughout conversations.

Not that Metra Park as the site for Montana Fair was overlooked. Montana Fair, which usually pulls in 225,000 attendees is the biggest event in the state. That fact helps to identify the future direction that many said they wanted Metra Park to go in being the premier venue in the state and to be a destination in  and of itself. 

“…some participants expressed a desire for more passive opportunities – a small park or playground area, amenities where middle or high school students could congregate with friends, green spaces, youth recreational facilities, or similar amenities. Many participants believe that voters are more likely to support Metra Park when they believe their children will benefit …”

People said that they want a reason to go to Metra Park even when there are no events programmed. They suggested opportunities for recreation, gathering, or even light retail. They would like a reason to take out-of-town visitors to Metra Park, regardless of events.

Many, including Loveridge in his comments noted that Metra Park is very well position “…between the rims and the river.” The location is central to the whole community and Metra Park remains clearly identified as a county-owned facility and so is recognized as belonging to no one jurisdiction.  It’s location offers “vast potential for recreation access … whether as bike trails or more innovative concepts like a zip line.”

“Some participants expressed a desire to see more cultural events and representation at Metra Park, including hosting large, inter-tribal pow-wows and focusing on the local history. Others indicated a desire to see some permanent amenities, including possibly an open-air market.”

“Nearly all participants could relate a fond memory of youth athletics at Metra Park –

Sports are a major economic driver. Metra has already proven its capability and those events have huge potential for our economic well-being. There is a need for a track facility, for swimming, for more basketball courts, and for ice.”

When it comes to producing and booking events there was a desire that Metra Park take more risks. Because events at Metra Park so clearly support the local economy, it should be viewed as a “loss leader.”

Loveridge said that he believes a new and reinvigorated Metra Park could produce revenues enough so as not to be a burden on taxpayers.

“Most participants felt that Metra Park could and should do both. Generally, participants want Metra Park run like a smart business with a focus on revenue generation and wise use of resources. They also understand that, as a governmental entity, the county is likely to be, and perhaps should be, more risk averse.”

“When asked about the possibility of Metra Park adding or modifying facilities to serve as a convention center for the area, participants were mixed and generally lukewarm. Many participants expressed the opinion that the existing facilities lack the basic amenities necessary for high quality conferences, including upscale interior finishes, breakout rooms with climate control, adequate restroom and networking spaces, AV equipment and sufficient hotel rooms in walking distance.”

And, absolutely everyone had an opinion about parking, even before being asked. There was no consensus.

While there were worries about how Metra Park is managed with suggestions that it needs to be separated from politics and professionally managed, there were comments that greatly lauded staff as being easy to work with, and they applauded county commissioners for being transparent in this process and for seeking public input.

 Said one respondent, “I love the conversation the Commissioners are having right now. They are saying ‘what should the future of Metra Park be?’ That is powerful.”

They asked that going forward with the project, that “In addition to seeing details on the business plan and the planning process, participants want to see a thoughtful discussion on the ongoing maintenance of Metra Park. While there is some anticipation growing as buildings come down on the campus, many people also noted that the buildings were in a state of genuine disrepair. If a significant public investment is to be made, participants recommended that there be some plan to maintain the facility at a higher level of quality.”

One comment that seemed to sum it up was, “I would bet you that 9 out of every 10 cities would kill to have a venue like Metra in a location like that, with all the potential that place has. You have to applaud the commissioners and whomever else is behind the idea of turning this into the economic engine that it should be.”

“Just add water” – from the Encore Green Environmental website.

Who would have thought that such a simple maxim could be the solution for reducing carbon dioxide emissions while at the same time dealing with an unwanted by-product of the oil fields?

A husband and wife team in Wyoming, that’s who.

Marvin Nash gives all the credit to his wife, Darlene. “She was kind of enough to let me borrow against our life insurance and start a business,” explains Marvin.

The Wyoming husband and wife team now head their own company, Encore Green Environmental (EGE), which is bringing this beautiful solution to the oil patch and to ranchers who have arid range land located near oil wells.  As the new company gets its feet on the ground they are planning to establish a headquarters in Montana — maybe in Billings.

EGE is marketing a patent-pending technology – called Conservation by Design —   that removes unwanted elements from water, which is a by-product of oil production. Given that every day in the US some 2.4 billion gallons of by-product water – often called produced water – is pumped up with oil and gas production, you can get a glimmer about the potential of being able to make that water useable – especially when one considers that most of the oil fields in western US are in arid regions where ranchers struggle to make a living because of a lack of moisture.

And it gets better. The process of cleaning the produced water and using it to irrigate arid range lands generates plant growth and at that point – as EGE’s website states – -nature’s technology takes over as the increased growth of grass and other vegetation removes carbon dioxide from the air and replaces it with oxygen. And, an added bonus, is that the range land to be irrigated is located right next to the oil well, so there is no need to pipe the water great distances or to truck it.

The water may be just as valuable as oil, and maybe more so in the future, because a potential shortage of water looms as a grave threat to the arid Rocky Mountain region, believes Nash. When discussing agriculture issues or range management, “it always comes back to water,” said Nash, who worries about what that holds for the future of his grandchildren.

In something of a great irony, if there is more water than what the rancher needs, he can store it in reservoirs for stock, wildlife, or to sell it back to the oil companies who need clean water for drilling.

This is a win, win, win.

Without this process the oil companies must haul the “produced water” away. Not only is that tough on profit margins, but it requires a massive trucking operation that burns great amounts of CO2-spewing fuels, in addition to great wear and tear on trucks and roads. It was seeing these long line of trucks hauling away wastewater every day that made Nash say to himself, “we need to quit wasting this water.”

Most of the time oil companies re-inject the water back into the ground – not a good solution – not when it is so vitally needed.

While EGE’s focus is on cleaning up a by-product for the oil companies, “We are really an ag company,” said Nash. Nash’s background has had more to do with agriculture than oil and gas and it is the expertise of agronomist and soil specialists that the company most draws upon. Experts like Neal E. Fehringer, a Certified Professional Agronomist, CCA in Billings, who has his own company, Fehringer Agricultural Consulting, Inc. Fehriger is EGE’s Director of Agronomy.

Locating the company in Billings is to return to a state in which Nash has a long history. Nash used to live in Montana and was very much involved in rodeo, working for former rodeo star and contract rodeo stock supplier, Reg Kesler.

Also, on the EGE team is John Robitaille, who has been a range manager for more than30 years, and was a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry for 20 of those years. He not only understands issues of soil health, but of those who regulate it. He has helped EGE negotiate the challenging process of getting permitted and approved by the various government agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Quality in Wyoming, as well as in Utah, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. EGE must get a permit to apply the water to any land.

Jeff Holder is also part of the company’s team to head communications with the media and public. He comes from the media corporate world as a script writer and it is his challenge to explain the science involved in what they are doing and to convey to the public its benefit.

The process of making the produced water useable for irrigation involves first testing to determine  what elements the soil needs. They determine its salinity, or how much clay or sand is in the soil and what it needs to be healthy soil. They then test the produced water to determine what elements need to be removed from it and what needs to be done so it matches up to what the soil needs. While it varies from site to site, in general the water is full of salts, minerals, metals and initially insoluble man-made chemicals needed.

Testing is on-going to monitor the soil conditions as well as the water content and to make adjustments if needed.

And, of course, EGE becomes the conduit between the oil company and the adjacent landowners. As the benefits to both entities are realized, it builds good relationships between the landowner and the company.

The water can be cleaned to the extent that it is potable for livestock, as well. (Until the technology is unquestionably proven, water will not be used to irrigate consumable crops.)

EGE has developed two successful pilot projects in Wyoming, applying six to eight inches of water in addition to natural rain or snowfall.

While one might be inclined to believe that environmentalists would be excited about the potential of EGE in helping to solve a serious environmental problem, they are not. Nash said that they say they believe that there could be long term negative impacts in using the water. Even though the water can be cleaned to the point of being potable, environmentalists say they worry that there may be unidentified contaminates that over time would accumulate and harm the land.

While Nash concedes that what they are doing and developing is a learning process, he is confident that they can remove any contaminate they might find and if not, the water will not be used. This is the two test step, fail-safe process of Conservation By-Design. It was, after all concern about soil health that sparked the Nashes interest.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Several times my husband mentioned that I needed to listen to this guy on the radio but I didn’t listen much to the radio except when traveling in the car, so that’s when it happened. I even remember what street we were on when I first heard Rush Limbaugh. We were on Central Avenue near the bowling alley. He took my breath away, so astounded I was. It was a burst of sunshine in what I had not fully realized was a gray and cloudy day.

I was astounded that this guy was speaking so forthrightly, right out loud in public! My first reaction was to be concerned for his safety and I said as much to my husband.

The fact is, politically correct speech was in full sway even in the 80s  – and suddenly here was someone loudly speaking truth. What he was saying was little more than the common sense most people already knew, but the fact he was speaking it— so publically – that was the greatness that everyone immediately recognized  – – most especially those who disagreed.

During the week after hearing about Rush’s death, over and over we heard or read stories as people recalled exactly where they were when they first heard Rush Limbaugh.  Think about that. It wasn’t like an earthshaking event such as the assassination of the President or landing on the moon, this was a guy talking on the radio. It was Rush shaking things up.

So phenomenal was he that tens of millions of people immediately took note upon first hearing him. Why would that be? As brilliant as he was or as talented as he was, that wouldn’t have been so evident in just a few minutes – what people heard was a brave man speaking his mind. So rare was that, that it was profoundly noteworthy.

For all of Rush Limbaugh’s talent and innovation and brilliance, what always impressed me most was his courage.  It’s become clear to me over the years that more so than brilliance, talent or hard work, by far the most rare human attribute is courage – to have the internal strength and integrity to speak the truth as you see it. 

Such is a very sad and disturbing reality to have to concede, because of course, in a supposedly free country, everyone should feel comfortable speaking their minds. But, over the years, silencing of free expression, especially of conservative or freedom-oriented ideas, has escalated. But for 32 years, Rush Limbaugh was never daunted. He never faltered in speaking ever louder, every day.

Rush very seldom had a guest. While he often gave reasons for that, one reason we all knew was that most guests would only dilute the program. Seldom could any guest put forth more compelling, interesting and knowledgeable conversation than could Rush. Whenever I was listening I was always waiting for some unique bit of insight about events of the day, and he usually had it.

One of the most profound insights— about which he came to frequently remind us— was that he was not really the target of those who attacked him and hated him. He was a proxy for all of us in his audience, and for all who dared to have a point view that differed from the politically correct.  Over the years the truth of that insight only broadened as it has become more and more inherent in most political opposition from the establishment, Left or Right.

The fact that there are tens of millions of people who loved him and appreciated him is why the Left hated Rush and why they could never admit his greatness, as they can seldom admit any great achievements. Over the last few months, Rush reiterated many times that the political establishment is well aware of those millions and that they fear us.

Given the amazing political events we have seen unfold over the past couple of years, including the wide ranging efforts to disrupt and end public discourse, one can hardly refute the point. There’s only one reason to silence the millions and that is because you cannot intellectually refute their ideas, and because you know that if disseminated those ideas would prevail. For such people the only course of action is to use force to keep people from speaking and thinking.

One of the biggest mistakes the political establishment ever made was to end the “Fairness Doctrine.” That’s what gave us Rush Limbaugh and unleashed free speech and the free reign of ideas within the realm of public broadcasting.

Under the grip of federal regulations radio served little purpose other than listening to music. In requiring radio stations to guarantee opposite points of view, there became no points of view except those considered “settled truths,” which were regularly pushed at us in the news propagated by the only three television networks allowed. No one would take on the financial cost or legal liability of allowing public discourse.  Just think where we would be now if it were not for radio, now that most other communication and venues have been shut down.

Many have talked, this past week, about how inspiring Rush was, far more so than to talk about politics.  Everything about Rush was a lesson and an inspiration. He was a real live testament to what he believed about free will and the strength of free markets. His passion, innovation, talent and most of all his commitment to his beliefs, not only helped him build a fortune from the bottom up, but he, as many have said, saved the radio industry through that innovation and determination. In forging that path he made way for opportunities and success for the thousands who followed in the industry. This was indeed a free market at work and it is that freedom of choice which stands threatened once again.

Rush was always upbeat and positive, which not only made listening to him a bright spot in the day, but inspired his listeners to persevere. Many times he would advise, “follow your passion,” which at root was what it all was about, most especially the politics. An individual cannot follow their passion unless they have the freedom to do so and that is fundamentally what the US Constitution and free markets are all about – individual freedom to choose and to live. Rush was doing just that every day before our very eyes.

But for all of that, we would know nothing about Rush — there would have been no saving of an industry and no inspiration, knowledge or understanding of politics or of life, if there had not first come the actions of one brave man. That is his legend and the legacy — having the courage to speak.

It is the challenge of each one of us to continue that legacy.

By Evelyn Pyburn

With Metra Park officials seeking public input as to what the community would like to see emerge in the recently opened-up spaces at the facility, one of the dozens of citizens interviewed by the master planners has put forth a new idea which seems to have caught the imagination of many.

Well-known Billings businessman, Charlie Yegen, who is a descendent of one of the community’s pioneer families and who has long served as a leader for the Yellowstone County Museum, has suggested that a cultural center would be a perfect addition to Metra Park, as well as the community in general. He was joined by a number of others on Monday to present the concept to County Commissioners.

A cultural center would accommodate a wide range of exhibits and programs that would “promote, preserve, and disseminate the historic and modern cultures of the greater Yellowstone River Valley.” The facility Yegen envisions would be a destination showcase that would serve Billings very much like the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, Wyoming. Yegen sees a cultural center as a feature that would amplify the many visitor attractions in the region, including the museum in Cody, Little Big Horn Battlefield, Pompey’s Pillar, Pictograph Caves, Beartooth Pass and more. Being located at Metra Park, it would complement all its activities, “whether it be the rodeo or the midway.” And, it would be there to do that every day of the year, while serving as an attraction unto itself.

Yegen said that the light bulb came on for him in talking to Metra Park planners about potential attractions. In drawing on his long-standing efforts to relocate and expand the Yellowstone County Museum, the two visions merged. A cultural center would of course be more than a museum – and in fact it could consolidate and interweave a number of cultural aspects of the community.

It would support a vibrant economy with increased tourism and add to our quality of life and educational opportunities.

Ideas were quickly offered by others as they caught onto the idea and began brainstorming. It would be about “Cowboys and Indians,” exclaimed Dr. Joseph McGeschik, an MSU-Billings instructor and tribal liaison, who was among those present. “Cowboys and Indians are what people want to see when they come here.”

It could include an Indian Art Center, explain our agriculture, our history and heritage.

It would be located at a convergence of many city features, bike trails, Boot Hill, Yellowstone Kelly’s memorial, sacred Indian grounds, Swords Park and Alkali Creek where dinosaur fossils have been found – and note— dinosaurs are becoming an ever greater ‘big deal’! It could meld with the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame, horticulture gardens, and more.

The center would address the need for a regional repository – a facility to which people can donate collections and valuable artifacts that all too often go to other parts of the country. “There is an amazing amount of artifacts and papers out there stored in spare bedrooms,” said Yegen, “All those fabulous collections, and a lot of folks have all that stuff and wonder what to do with it.”

“The potential is amazing,” said Yegen, and “there isn’t a sector in the community that shouldn’t benefit.” Yegen wants feedback from others. If there is enough support, the next step would be to form a group of interested individuals to develop the concept. “We need an organization to come up with the goals and objectives and theory of operation,” he said.

Opens Registration

Once again the Montana Women’s Run is planning a virtual event because of COVID constraints, but this year is special because Montana’s premier race is celebrating its 40th anniversary on race day, May 8.  The opening of registration has been announced along with the unveiling of this year’s t-shirt design.

Each year participants receive a long-sleeve t-shirt sporting a unique design, the revelation of which is looked forward to with eager anticipation by thousands of women. This year, neighborhoods and trails will be filled with small groups of walkers and runners doing the 2-mile or 5-mile races, wearing the 2021 royal blue shirt. 

 The special 40th Anniversary shirt artwork was designed by a local female graphic design artist. The 2021 artwork is bright, celebratory and energetic, much like the event and participants. The shirt features Bitterroot-shaped flowers, in keeping with the Montana Women’s Run tradition, and a silhouette of a running shoe in acknowledgement of the design of one of the original Montana Women’s Run shirts. The circular placement of the type and shoelace embodies movement and communicates unity while symbolizing the wholeness of health and wellbeing for women. The fresh design brings the tradition of the Montana Women’s Run past and race’s movement into the future together in one design.

The Montana Women’s Run began in 1982 with 200 registrants and celebrated last year with over 4,820 women participating virtually around the world. Today, the race is recognized as the largest running event for women in the state of Montana, and one of the largest all-women’s races in the country. To date, the Montana Women’s Run has donated more than $1,457,500 to local organizations that promote women’s and children’s health and fitness. The major sponsors of the 2021 Montana Women’s Run are Billings Clinic, ExxonMobil, First Interstate Bank, Graphic Imprints, The Planet 106.7 and KTVQ.

To register for any of the events, visit www.womensrun.org.   

T-shirts, race numbers and a small gift will be mailed to all participants who register before May 2. Proceeds from the event benefit charitable organizations in Billings that contribute to women’s health and wellness.

In the realm of real estate few names are as founded with Billings as that of Floberg. The company, now known as Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Floberg Realtors, has been purchased by Charles “Dan” and Beth Smith from founders Don and Marilyn Floberg and partners, Tom and Robin Hanel, and Linda Parker and Mike Oliver.

The company was founded in 1959 and its growth has paralleled that of Billings. Its sale incidentally coincided with the death of Don Floberg on December 15, 2020.

The Smiths have been part of the Floberg team for two years, having brought with them experience in real estate and in business. Tom Hanel will continue as the Managing Broker, and he and Robin will remain as a top sales team with the company.

After over a half century in the real estate business, Don and Marilyn decided six years ago to phase out of the business by selling part of it to the Hanels, with the idea that they would eventually become sole owners. That was the plan, but about a year ago the Hanels realized the priorities in their lives had changed and they were not as inclined to pursue ownership any more.

“We don’t plan to retire,” said Tom, “but we want to have more flexibility in our lives.” Like many people, Tom and Robin were discovering that with the responsibilities of aging parents and the joys of many grandchildren, there were other things they wanted to do.

After discussing the matter with the Flobergs, it was decided they would sell the whole business. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Floberg Real Estate is a franchise with offices in Red Lodge and Columbus, as well as Billings.

The decision to sell was quite easy once the Smiths were identified as the prospective purchasers. They were the perfect couple to continue the Floberg legacy, said the Hanels. “They will make all of us proud.”

Don and Marilyn, still very active in the business, were initially concerned about being able to find new owners who would be committed to continuing the legacy and maintain the business as the “Number 1” agency in Billings and a top performer with Berkshire Hathaway, but in coming to know Dan and Beth as part of the Floberg team those concerns were allayed.

“They were completely on board,” said Hanel, and Don was pleased to be able to sign some of the closing documents days before he died.

The Smiths moved to Billings ten years ago from Kansas. Dan was in corporate management and Beth was for 15 years a real estate appraiser. Tom Hanel sold them their home in Billings, and the families quickly became good friends.

The Smiths, who have three children, quickly fell in love with Billings and Montana, and were not the least bit interested in moving, when Dan’s company wanted to transfer him to Denver.

The solution for the Smiths was to buy a business, about which they consulted with their good friend and real estate advisor, Tom Hanel. Hanel suggested that they both get their real estate licenses and join Floberg Real Estate. It was a perfect fit. “We love it here,” said Beth Smith, “the comradery, the atmosphere, the giving spirit of everyone. We are very blessed that it worked out the way it did.”

Charles “Dan” Smith says, “Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Floberg Real Estate is a superior company as a result of an amazing Franchise in Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, exceptional agents, and a top notch administrative team.”

Their primary goal, said Beth Smith, is “not to mess anything up.”

The Flobergs have built such a great foundation, she continued, “our challenge will be to continue what they started” in the business and in the community. The Flobergs have long been noted for their community involvement.

Hanel, who has been managing Floberg Real Estate, will continue as manager and a mentor to the Smiths for another year or so, but then phase into focusing on real estate sales with Robin, as the top real estate team. Robin stressed that neither of them have any intention of leaving the business any time soon, and that they want to be supportive of the Smiths.

Floberg Real Estate, the second oldest consecutive operating real estate business in Billings, employs six full time staff people and has almost 60 agents. The name will remain the same as will the trusted and dependable service and support for their clients.

Returning home to Billings, after serving five years in the Marine Corp, Seth Stovall couldn’t find a job he really liked. Since he has always been interested in guns and enjoys every aspect of learning about them — shooting for sport and recreation, as well as the training he had in the military – Stovall has opened a gun store in Lockwood.

The new store, called Castle Arms, is located at 2750 Old Hardin Road, Ste. D, a strip mall at the corner of Johnson Lane and Old Hardin Road.

“I have grown up with guns,” he said – hunting as a youth and  “learning a lot in the military.” His experience gives him a lot of insight and knowledge about guns. And, he adds, “I completely respect the second amendment.”

The store will specialize in AR style (Armalite Rifle) guns, as well as other guns and fire arm accessories. Starting a retail gun store at a time when fire arms and ammunition are in high demand and in short supply is something of a “slow process”, but Stovall said that it is growing and distributors are supportive and he expects to expand.

Hours of the business are from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

Stovall attended Shepherd High School and attended Rocky Mountain College, getting a degree in information technology.

Stovall expressed his gratitude to everyone who has helped him launch his new business.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Following the experience of the heavy hand of government laid upon small businesses over the past year, one must hope that business people are rethinking their ideas about benefits of any “health and safety” they think emanate from the helping hand of “big brother.”

The experience lays bare also the emerging reality of how businesses are being used by government.

More and more business owners are being forced by government to function like an extension of government – at considerable expense and under ominous threats  — burdens that detract considerably from their ability to function as a successful business.

From being tax collectors and health care providers, to enforcing smoking laws or policing citizen conduct, businesses have become an uncompensated department of government over-reach. It’s time that it be identified for what it is and stopped.

Part of the strategy of coercion lies in the regulatory and licensing process that has been heaped onto business for decades, now. Sometimes that has happened with the willing cooperation of some businesses as they hoped to gain some advantage over their competition.

But, given that the past few months have blatantly demonstrated how the regulations and licensing and permitting powers they granted to government can boomerang, one has to hope that thinking business people will seriously reconsider their ideas about regulations and any competitive advantage they might think it gives them. Hopefully they have seen how serious the loss of their liberties can be.

 At every turn, business people who wanted to claim their civil rights to produce and serve and exchange value for value, with willing fellow citizens called customers, their freedom has been usurped by unelected, well-paid bureaucrats utilizing unlegislated laws and under threat by non-police police, of fines and imprisonment. Non- compliance has meant the very real possibility of losing their business, their livelihood, their investments and life savings. If that doesn’t incentivize a moment of reconsideration, nothing will.

Absolutely none of this in any way reflects the characteristics of a free county, and it sets in place an escalating course that can only get worse and utterly destroy the foundation of what has been the most vital business environment that has ever existed. Stopping it means reversing many of the existing restraints on business and it all begins at home and in the state legislature where it was initially implemented.