Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-MT) held a roundtable discussion with seven Montana Farm Bureau members March 23 at the organization’s office in Bozeman. He reiterated frequently that he recognizes the problems agriculture faces require common-sense solutions, and he’s willing to aid in implementing those solutions. The wide range of issues included trade and taxes, the farm bill, brucellosis, forestry and Wilderness Study Areas as well as several regulations proving exceptionally onerous for farmers and ranchers.
One of the main concerns of the ranchers voiced was the recent court decision that would require anyone who owned more than 200 cows to report manure emissions. Senate Bill S. 2421, the FARM Act and HR 5275, the corresponding House Bill, known as the ACRE Act, both clarified that farmers do not need to report their emissions and were included in the Omnibus Bill which passed Friday morning. Gianforte had signed on to the ACRE Act.
“It was a ridiculous policy with no realistic way to even do any measurements,” noted Bonita Cremer, a rancher from Melville. “Manure is a natural substance that in no way has emissions that harm in the environment. Having to constantly monitor that would be detrimental to ranchers.”
Trade agreements, tariffs and trade retaliation are on the minds of many farmers and ranchers. Montana Farm Bureau National Affairs Director Nicole Rolf explained how essential trade and existing trade agreements are to the agricultural community. Gianforte noted that farmers and ranchers need free and open trade in order for our agricultural sector to flourish, and that broad-based tariffs hurt our American consumers and Montana ag producers.
Another regulation detrimental to agriculture is the Electronic Logging Device (ELDs) and Hours of Service (HOS) that set a specific length of time a hauler can run before being required to stop for a pre-determined amount of time. The Congressman voiced his frustration with federal bureaucrats not understanding the reality of the policies they implement and noted it’s his priority to help with this issue. ELD compliance has, fortunately, again been delayed until September 30 for livestock and bees while a satisfactory exemption is hopefully developed.
Gail Vennes, a rancher from Townsend, voiced frustration with forest management in Montana. He pointed out that the continuous replanting of trees without more focus on vegetative diversity is vicious cycle that leads to more disease, more fire and less water flow. He recommended concentrating on re-establishing vegetation, noting that the U.S. Forest Service needs to show stewardship that is required by private forest owners.
Gianforte agreed “common-sense guard rails” need to be put in place and introduced his efforts on the issue, including co-sponsoring a comprehensive forest management reform in the Resilient Federal Forests Act, supported by the American Farm Bureau.
Another federal program causing frustration was Wilderness Study Areas highlighted by Cliff Cox, a rancher form Winston. Cox explained the negative affect WSAs are having on irrigators and timber managers. Gianforte noted he is working on legislation that would withdraw more than 600,000 acres from WSA. Those lands would then be placed back under the multiple-use management of BLM or the Forest Service.
Included in concerns about federal mismanagement of land were bison and brucellosis. “There is gross overpopulation of bison in Yellowstone National Park that far exceeds the 3,000-head target,” noted Livingston rancher Sky Anderson. “The Park is inadequately managing those animals, which is a real threat for livestock producers as well as people living around the park.”
The Congressman stated that population and management goals set by the federal government absolutely need to be met.
With the CSKT Compact back in the news, Walt Sales, a Manhattan farmer and state representative, discussed why, it’s critical for Congress to ratify and complete the compact.
Bruce Wright, a farmer and food processor from Bozeman, praised the tax bill and how the 20% deduction and tax cut for his employees will benefit his small business. Wright advised that the provision becoming permanent would be beneficial to small businesses. Other members including Cremer and Sales, stressed the complications of passing the farm or ranch down to the next generation due to burdensome estate taxes.
Gianforte acknowledged the new tax law does good things for small business and agriculture, but some of the temporary provisions need to be made permanent.
Rolf expressed her thanks to the Congressman for meeting with farmers and ranches for a grassroots look at issues. “I know our members have many worries about legislation that affects their businesses, and we’re grateful that Representative Gianforte took the time out of his very busy schedule to listen to us, acknowledge our concerns, and take that information back to Washington, D.C.”