The 102nd Montana Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention is slated for November 8-11 at the DoubleTree and Northern Hotels in Billings. Members can expect to hear speakers on various topics, discuss policy for the coming year and enjoy the camaraderie with farmers and ranchers from across the state.

Highlights of the convention include speakers Jay Hill, who will engage members to keep pushing for their way of life; Mike Pearson, who will present an  outlook for the farm markets and global trends; and Frank King, who will illustrate how suicide prevention practices facilitate a healthier, more productive farm. Workshops include a calving seminar with a calving simulator, grazing management decisions following a drought, legacy planning, and building on consumer trust.

The heart of the convention is bringing together voting delegates from county Farm Bureaus to debate and discuss policy for 2022. Each county meets in September to develop policy based on issues of concern; that policy is brought to the state convention for a vote.

To register, visit www.  For more information on the YF&R Discussion Meet, visit Programs/ Young- Farmers- Ranchers.

On October 1st, the Montana Chamber of Commerce welcomed its newest Treasure State member, Stockman Bank.

Stockman Bank has been a member of the Montana Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years. They take great pride in being Montana’s largest, family-owned, full-service community bank. With 36 statewide locations and 825 employees, Stockman Bank is the largest Ag Bank in Montana and one of the State’s largest commercial and real estate lenders. 

By investing at the Treasure State level, they play a significant role in advancing the Chamber’s 10-year strategic plan, Envision 2026, and other initiatives to improve Montana’s business climate, safeguard a vital infrastructure, address workforce challenges, and build on the entrepreneurial strength of the Big Sky State.

“Entrepreneurship and small business are the backbone of our State. As a Montana family-owned business, we know when we help our local businesses move forward, we move our communities forward, which then moves Montana forward,” stated Bill Coffee, President and CEO of Stockman Bank. “By supporting the Montana Chamber of Commerce as a top-tier investor, we help our local businesses continue to grow and succeed.” 

The Montana Chamber actively recruits member support at a variety of levels. However, the Montana Chamber’s largest supporters are Treasure State members, and they are critical to fulfilling the Chamber’s mission. Stockman Bank is now one of four Montana companies that are top-tier Treasure State investors.

Todd O’Hair, President and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce closed the announcement by saying, “Stockman Bank is an industry leader in Montana, and we look forward to working with the entire Stockman Bank team to build a stronger and more successful Montana economy. We appreciate their confidence in the work the Montana Chamber is doing on behalf of the Montana business community.”

Lawn Starter has compared the 50 states across 42 key metrics to rank the best state in which to start a farm or ranch. Montana comes out at the very top.

The ranking is the result of examining existing farm communities to indicate viability, good infrastructure, and a suitable climate. They also compared the states based on overhead and the potential for return on investment.

Lawn Starter’s announcement stated, “The Big Sky State earns the top spot in our ranking of 2021’s Best States to Start a Farm or Ranch. With agriculture its biggest industry, Montana’s victory comes as little surprise. 

“The state placed in the top 10 in five out of seven categories and No. 15 in ROI Potential. Montana trails only Wyoming in farm size, averaging a whopping 2,156 acres, and the average cost of an acre in the Treasure State is lowest in the U.S.

“Although ranching is woven into the state’s cultural fabric, farming also contributes significantly to the state’s economy. Montana is a top supplier of beef, and it leads the nation’s production of organic certified wheat, dry peas, lentils, flax, and honey.”

Montana’s Rank for Some Key Metrics (1 = Best)

* Increase in Farmland Area Over Past Year – 1st

* Share of Electricity from Renewable Sources – 7th

* Number of Critical Access Hospitals – 8th

* Yearly Average Number of Very Hot Days (90 Degrees F or Higher) – 18th

* Natural Hazards Index – 5th

* Farm Workers per 100,000 Residents – 9th

* Average Per-Acre Cost of Farmland – 1st

* Average Per-Farm Receipts from Federal Programs – 4th 

Coming in at No. 2 is Kansas, while Texas clocks in at No. 4, Oklahoma at No. 5, and Iowa in seventh place. Both Dakotas made it, too, at Nos. 3 and 6. Colorado (No. 9) and Wyoming (No. 10) round out the Plains states at the top. 

But how specifically did this broad, sweeping landscape dominate the top of our ranking? Most of these states, such as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, boast cheap land, large established farming communities for support, and highly developed infrastructure. 

Alaska not only ranked at the very bottom of our ranking of top agricultural states, but it also finished last in two out of seven categories, Viability and Climate; third to last in Personnel; and in the worst 10 of Infrastructure and ROI Potential. These results are hardly a shock. Although Alaska is the bi

RVU Launches New Medical Culture for Billings

The first medical college in Montana held a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday. Rocky Vista University (RVU) officials were joined by dozens of Billings’ civic leaders to celebrate the construction of the medical school’s third location and the first such education center in Montana.

RVU, a private education enterprise, will build an almost $80 million four- year medical school in Billings at the corner of Monad and Shiloh. Langlas Construction has already begun construction of the 135,000 square foot school. Steel girders already tower over the 12-acre campus of RVU’s Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Speakers at the groundbreaking, including Gov. Greg Gianforte and several RVU leaders, lauded the Big Sky Economic Development team led by Director Steve Arveschoug for recruiting and assisting RVU’s efforts to locate in Billings.

“You worked tirelessly to get here,” said Gov. Gianforte in congratulating everyone involved. “Thank you,” he said, adding that the project is the kind of private investment Montana needs and he hopes that this project will encourage more such investment.

Also, “It will save lives,” he asserted.

“We need to raise up a new generation of doctors,” said the Governor, noting that the benefit to Montana is in being able to improve medical care in the rural areas of a state that has an aging population which will need more access to medical care, in the future. Having a medical school in Montana means more doctors for the state, he said, explaining that studies have shown that doctors tend to stay in the states where they go to school and train.

While RVU graduates pursue the full spectrum of medical specialties, the majority choose primary care, and many of them practice in underserved and rural areas. RVU graduates become lifelong learners prepared to meet the diverse healthcare needs of tomorrow through innovative education, relevant research, and compassionate service, according to RVU leaders which included speakers, Dr. David Forstein, RVU’s president and provost; and Dr. David Park, RVU vice president and founding dean of the Billings campus.

RVU will also be a benefit to Montana students who will be able to stay closer to home while going to school. And, of course, RVU will attract other students from out-of-state to the Billings community.

RVU expects to graduate its first class in 2027.

Gov. Gianforte pointed out that Montana ranks 30th in terms of physicians per capita – and “COVID has exacerbated this problem.” Also underscoring the state’s critical need for more doctors is that only 13 percent of Montana doctors are under the age of 40, and more than a third are over 60, according to Gov. Gianforte.

The Governor extended his support to RVU as they move forward. He later said that he wanted to “roll out the red carpet” to them and to let them know that “Montana is open for business.”

Elsie Arntzen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that RVU presence in Billings will not only add to the culture of the community but will help develop a health culture – and it will add more to K-12 education “than ever thought before.”

Underscoring that RVU is privately- funded, Dr. Park said that they will not be asking the community for money. In fact, it is estimated that the college will pay over 3 million dollars in taxes every year. “What we will ask the community to donate,” said Dr. Park, “is time – time in supporting us and learning about us and in talking about us. Time in developing a culture of medical education.”

Besides being a game changer in the realm of medical care and  health care access, in Montana, RVU will also have a significant economic impact. The college will provide 350 new jobs and will generate $67 million annually in economic activity. It may also be a stimulus for other similar kinds of ventures.

RVU’s first campus was founded in 2006 in Parker, Colorado and a second campus was developed in 2017 in Ivins, Utah, graduating its first class in 2021. RVU is accredited by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA), Higher Learning Commission, Accreditation Review Commission for the Physician Assistant, and the American College of Surgeons.

RVU is supported by healthcare partners, including St. Vincent Healthcare/SCL Health, and RiverStone Health. They and other Montana hospitals statewide will be engaged by exploring the development of clinical rotations for the 3rd and 4th year students beginning in 2025 and further development of Graduate Medical Education (GME).

Dr. Park has been with Rocky Vista University in key leadership positions since 2015. Dr. Park received his DO degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1998 and is dual-board certified by the ABFM and the AOBFP.

The Montana Foundation has announced winners for the third annual “Judy Martz Women in Leadership” awards.  Hallie Thompson of Great Falls, Kimberly Siemsen of Billings, and Maria Begger of Harlowton will share a total of $5,000 to further their leadership skills from the 2021 round of the Judy Martz “Women in Leadership” awards.

The award memorializes former Governor Judy Martz, Montana’s first and only female state executive, who passed away October 2017.  The Montana Foundation continues the Martz Fund created in 2018 to provide leadership development for Montana women, following the trail blazed by Martz.

Thompson will use the funds to help buy a food truck to expand her start-up business, Wholesome Hal’s.  “I hope to continue building my sphere of influence in the same way Governor Martz did as a small businesswoman.”  Coincidentally, October is National Women’s Small Business Month.

Siemsen will use her award as a scholarship toward a Native American Studies Certificate through Montana State University.  According to her application, “Our Native American population deserves to be acknowledged and discussed in a modern and authentic way.”

Begger’s award will go toward a masters in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences from UM.  After graduating and becoming a fully licensed and certified speech-language pathologist, “I want to get a job within the schools and special education cooperatives of small-town Montana to serve and provide speech and language services to the rural populations of the state,” she says.

“We had nearly 60 applicants this year, all highly qualified and deserving,” said Kathy Brown, Chair of the Martz Fund Committee.  “This is a testament to our late Governor Judy Martz.”

The three winners will become part of the committee selecting the 2022 award recipients.  Contributions toward the fund are welcome as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) entity.  Go to Martz  or call 406-431-9508 for information.

The Flathead Lake real estate market set a record for sales in September. $43 million in lake shore properties were sold last month. The largest sales was a 15,000 plus square foot house that listed for $21 million. The year-to-date total sales on Flathead Lake is $157.4 million, compared to $117.5 million in 2020.

Daniel Pendergraph has voiced the question: What impact might this boom in human activity have on the pristine water quality of backcountry lakes? In a new study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, Pendergraph and others set out to determine if increased human visitation to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area led to an increase in human fecal contamination in backcountry lakes. The teams collected ssamples from 21 lakes and two snow melt streams. Human-associated bacteria were found in very low abundances in all sites tested, which means they were present but not quantifiable. Only one of the sites had a quantifiable presence of the bacteria, but the number was still relatively low.

Dan Graves, Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO plans to retire at the end of the 2021-22 ski season, according to a report from the resort. Graves helped grow and promote the resort during his 15-year tenure. The 2020-2021 season was the resort’s busiest ever, with nearly 460,000 skier visits. Nick Polumbus, the resort’s director of marketing and sales, will take over as CEO upon Graves’ retirement.

The Kalispell City Council has decided to put in place regulations that will restrict marijuana businesses to Kalispell’s industrial zones. Marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and manufacturing will be an administrative conditionally permitted use in those zones, as long as they are placed more than 300 feet from schools, parks, churches and residential zones.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has detected a groundwater plume containing toxic chemicals under Butte High School. The plume was first detected in 2009. The Environmental Protection Agency contracted a preliminary investigation of the site over a decade later. The 2021 report found the site posed a potential risk to human health and recommended a thorough site inspection. The chemical concentrations found in 2009 present a fairly low risk to people, as does the potential exposure pathway.

Hachi Sushi Pub is opening this winter inside the Market at Ferguson Farm in Bozeman. The restaurant will focus seasonal seafood from West Coast markets. They will offer different styles of sushi as well as fusion flavors. The restaurant and bar’s concept is heavily inspired by Japanese pubs, called izakaya, which serve drinks and a variety of small dishes and pub fare.

Tina Cusker and her husband, Brett Cusker, are opening La Cuisine, a kitchen store and culinary classroom. La Cuisine offers a variety of kitchen ware and supplies, including many Montana made products. La Cuisine plans to host weekly cooking classes in a newly renovated commercial-grade kitchen. La Cuisine, at 2405 W. Main St., is will be open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Weekly cooking classes are planned to be held Tuesday evenings.

The bank in Fairview has been a part of the Fairfield community since 1941. Over the years the name has changed from Fairview Bank to Montana Bank of Fairview, then to First Security Bank – West and currently Merchants Bank. Merchants Bank acquired the Fairview Branch on Oct. 14, 2011 and the ten year anniversary was celebrated recently.

Oil and gas operators across the nation are preparing to announce carbon reduction goals and ESG plans. ONEOK is the most recent Bakken company to announce an ambitious ESG goal. It will reduce both Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2019 levels. Scope 1 and 2 emissions include direct emissions from company-operated sources and indirect emissions from purchased power. Oasis Petroleum has released the first of what it plans to make an annual sustainability report, which outlines the company’s ESG measures. Liberty Oilfield Services ESG statement turns things around to look at energy through the lens of making human lives better.

Williams County commissioners have rejected a proposal that would have limited the number of TENORM facilities permitted in the county. The idea came up during discussion of requests by WISCO and Secure Energy Services for permission to accept up to 25,000 tons annually of TENORM wastes.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks has begun a significant restructuring including the hiring of new upper management that will oversee a responsibilities from statewide site maintenance to recreation management. Hope Stockwell is the manager of the new FWP Parks and Recreation Division. The division includes Montana State Parks and maintenance of sites including state parks, fishing access sites and wildlife management areas plus all of the department’s recreation and access programs including Block Management, trail grants and recreation planning such as work on the Madison River. While sites such as fishing access sites might be funded through license sales, they often see plenty of use for non-fishing recreation.

The Little Shell Tribal Health Clinic, which is located at 425 Smelter Ave. NE in Great Falls, is set to open on Nov. 11. Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency that provides medical care to federally recognized tribes, is expected to run the clinic initially, but the tribe plans to assume clinic leadership within three years. The 10,000-square-foot clinic includes 12 exam and behavioral health rooms and features a pharmacy with drive-thru access. 

The latest numbers show Williston Basin Airport was about half of what it was in 2019, but triple the numbers from the same time in 2020. Over the last few months both Delta and United Airlines have returned to a pre-COVID level of service at XWA.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced up to $3 million in funding available for local programs aimed at educating the public about global warming.

Funds for the 2021 Environmental Education (EE) Local Grant Program are now available. Funds will be provided to each of EPA’s 10 Regions, of no less than $50,000 and no more than $100,000 each. The federal agency will provide a total of 30-40 grants nationwide. Applications for acquiring some of the funds are due Dec. 6, 2021.

The 2021 EE Local Grant Program includes support for projects that focus on adapting for climate change and strategies to mitigate its impacts to prevent future problems relating to water quality and “human health issues.”

Each of the ten EPA Regions will issue more specific details about what they hope to achieve.

EPA intends to provide financial support for projects in which activists will be provided information and methods on how to enlighten the public with information the agency believes will “increase environmental literacy and encourage behavior that will benefit the environment.” They will especially target poor communities and people of color or indigenous populations and Title 1 schools – entities  that may be the least informed.

This program has been in place since 1992, EPA has distributed between $2 and $3.5 million in grant funding per year under this program, supporting more than 3,800 grants.

During Montana State University’s Celebrate Agriculture Weekend on November 12-13, Dave Kelsey of Molt will receiving the Outstanding Agriculture Leader Award. The award is given to a Montana agriculturalist who embodies service, engagement and community impact, and we here at Northern Ag Network can think of no one better to receive the award than Dave Kelsey.

Kelsey, who was raised on a Montana farm producing sugar beets, corn and grains, has operated his own dryland farm for more than 40 years, growing small grains and raising cattle. A graduate of MSU’s agricultural education program, he has served as an agriculture teacher and spent decades promoting agricultural education at all levels.

In addition to running his business, Kelsey was a member of the Molt Volunteer Fire Department for more than 30 years, led 4-H activities for more than 25 years and has lobbied extensively for agricultural issues in both Helena and Washington, D.C. He currently serves as the chairman of MSU Extension’s Advisory Committee.

“I have known Mr. Kelsey since I first started working in government relations for Montana State University. Part of my job was to find advocates to speak to the Montana Legislature in support of MSU Extension, the MSU College of Agriculture and the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station,” Tracy Ellig, MSU’s vice president for communications, wrote in a nomination letter. “Mr. Kelsey was not only willing, but he was also enthusiastic beyond compare. He always arrived with a smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye and an unshakeable belief in the value of agriculture to the people of Montana.”

“Since the first time I met Dave, I knew that he was cut from a different cloth than most,” wrote Darrin Boss, head of MSU’s Department of Research Centers. “His humanity and desire for others to be happy and appreciated is very much respected and makes him the unique individual that he is. I cannot begin to tally the total hours Dave has given to the next generation of agricultural producers. He has given his time, experience and energy to many young people around the state of Montana.”

In total, Kelsey received more than a dozen nominations for the award. He was also nominated by partners at Extension offices in Yellowstone, Stillwater and Chouteau counties; Montana FFA; MSU’s Government Affairs Office; Stockman Bank; and a number of fellow agricultural producers, including Gary Broyles, a producer in Rapelje who received the Outstanding Agricultural Leader award in 2006.

“What stands out the most about Dave is that he is involved purely to make life better for others,” wrote Broyles. “He is an avid supporter of MSU and the land-grant mission.”

The City Annexation Committee is preparing for its annual review of the City’s Annexation Policy and Limits of Annexation Map. This process occurs annually in coordination with the City’s review of its Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The Annexation Map and Policy review process this year will run from November 2021 through approximately April 2022.

More information on the latest CIP schedule will soon be available at https:// /2662/ Capital- Improvement-Plan-CIP.

The Annexation Committee includes representation from City Administration, Fire, Police, Parks, Planning, Airport and Transit. The Committee makes recommendations to the City Council on amendments to the City’s Limits of Annexation Map, which may be viewed on-line along with the Annexation Policy. The Map was last amended in August 2021 by the City Council.

The Committee reviews requests from property owners to amend the City’s Limits of Annexation Map.

 The deadline for map amendment requests from property owners is November 19, 2021. There is a fee of $817.00 associated with Map Amendment Requests

Supply chain disruptions are impacting half of all small businesses and they are getting worse. Most employers are not mandating vaccination, and about a fourth of small businesses are exceeding pre-crisis sales levels.

The NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) Research Center released its latest COVID-19 survey on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected small businesses.

“Supply chain disruptions and the staffing shortage have become substantial issues for small businesses across the country,” said Holly Wade, Executive Director of NFIB’s Research Center. “Small employers are making business operation and hiring adjustments in order to compensate for both issues.”

This is the 19th survey in the series and includes updates on supply chain disruptions, staffing shortages, sales levels, and more. The survey was conducted from September 1-6, 2021, with 586 responses collected.

Key findings include:

Supply Chain Disruptions

* Half of small business owners reported that supply chain disruptions have a significant impact on their business, up from 32% two months ago.

* Over half (55%) of owners impacted report that the supply chain disruption is worse than it was three months ago.

* The vast majority (86%) of owners anticipate supply chain disruptions will continue for at least the next five months or more.

Staffing Shortages

* Over one-quarter (27%) of small employers are currently experiencing a significant staffing shortage and another 18% are currently experiencing a moderate staffing shortage.

* Of those small employers currently experiencing a staffing shortage, 25% are experiencing a significant loss of sales opportunities and 27% a moderate loss of sales opportunities because of their inability to fill open positions.

* About half (49%) of small employers are receiving fewer job applications for their open positions than they received one month ago, and 36% are receiving about the same amount.

* Small employers are adjusting to attract employees for open positions. Seventy-seven percent reported increasing wages, 17% increased paid time off, 16% offered or enhanced hiring bonuses, 18% offered or enhanced referral bonuses, and another 21% offered or enhanced health insurance benefits.

* Small business owners are also making business operation adjustments to compensate for the staffing shortage. Forty-one percent of owners are offering more hours to part-time employees, 64% are offering overtime to full-time employees, and virtually all (88%) of owners reported that the owner(s) are working more hours.

Sales Levels

* Sales levels are 50% or less than they were pre-crisis for 15% of small businesses with another 18% at sales levels of 51%-75% pre-crisis levels.

* Forty-one percent of owners are back or nearly back to where they were with sales between 76%-100% of pre-crisis levels. About one-in-four (26%) are exceeding pre-crisis sales levels.

The Economy

* Twenty-one percent of owners report that economic conditions are back to normal now in their area. Another 6% of owners anticipate it taking until the second half of 2021 and 23% anticipate sometime in the first half of 2022 before economic conditions return to pre-crisis levels.

Vaccinations and Face Coverings

* About one-quarter (26%) of owners are asking employees if they are vaccinated, up from 19% two months ago.

* When asked about mandating employee vaccination, 83% of small employers have no requirement or have not considered requiring employee vaccination. Fourteen percent of owners have considered mandating vaccination and 3% require employee vaccination.

* Twenty-five percent of owners reported requiring employees and/or customers to wear a face covering. Of those businesses requiring face coverings, 27% found it difficult to enforce the face covering requirement.


* Eight percent of small employers reported that childcare challenges are significant issues and 12% reported them as moderate issues.

* Since the onset of COVID-19, 29% of small employers have had employees quit or reduce their hours due to childcare challenges. Additionally, 18% of small employers have had difficulty hiring applicants for open positions specifically due to childcare challenges.

Utilization of COVID-19 Programs

* About three-quarters (76%) of small business owners reported that they received a Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020 and the vast majority of them (94%) have submitted a PPP loan forgiveness application for their 2020 loan.

* Forty-one percent of those who received a first-draw PPP loan received a second-draw PPP loan.

* Ten percent of owners claimed the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) for wages in 2020. Only 8% of owners claimed the ERTC for wages in 2021.

* A fifth of small employers applied for and received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).


* Almost half (45%) of small business owners report that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases over the past two months has had a large (9%) or moderate (36%) impact on their business.

* About a quarter (28%) of owners report that tariffs on Chinese products have a somewhat negative impact and 10% a significant negative impact on their business. Over half (54%) of owners report that the tariffs have no impact on their business.

* Thirty-one percent of owners had a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim filed against their business.