HELENA — This week, Montana farmers and ranchers came to the State Capitol to share their priorities with the state’s elected leaders.
About 45 members of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation were in Helena Monday and Tuesday for the organization’s “Calling on the Capitol” event. It’s designed to make the voice of Montana’s agricultural producers during the state legislative session.
“We’re original stewards of the land, and we like to let them know how those bills affect us and what we can do moving forward,” said Scott Stoner, who raises hay and quarter horses in Montana City, and who serves on the MFBF’s board of directors.
On Monday, Farm Bureau members and lawmakers met for a reception in the Capitol rotunda. On Tuesday, members visited with officials from the Montana Department of Agriculture, Department of Livestock and Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as well as Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras. They then sat in on several legislative sessions.
“They keep us informed on what's going on in their community from their perspective; we get a chance to talk to them about what's going on from our perspective,” Stoner said.
This is Stoner’s third time attending “Calling on the Capitol.”
“It definitely makes an impact on the legislators – and, like I said, they love to hear from us,” he said.
It’s been a challenging few years for many Montana farmers and ranchers, as they’ve dealt with droughts and then rising costs. But Nicole Rolf, MFBF’s senior director of governmental affairs, says the outlook has improved.
“2022 came around in a lot of ways, as things are looking better out in the country,” she said.
Rolf says, this session, MFBF is focusing on issues like protecting senior water rights, ensuring farmers and ranchers have a say in wildlife and land use issues, and encouraging tax reductions. One of the bills the organization is supporting is House Bill 212, which would raise the exemption for the state’s business equipment tax to $1 million. Rolf says that would affect many farms and ranches because they’re capital-intensive businesses.
“Really anything that has the ability to promote our rural communities, our farming and ranching family businesses, they’re all of discussion,” she said.
Stoner said he was glad to learn more about the state’s Red Tape Relief initiative, which he believes was long overdue. He said it was good to get to know the people making decisions that affect operations like his.
“It is a great experience, and I would certainly recommend it to any other Farm Bureau members to take part in it,” he said. “That's the best way to learn, and don't hesitate to come down and take part in our Capitol legislative experience.”
MFBF says they’ve held events like this in the past for smaller groups, but this was the first time they’ve combined them all to bring a larger group. It was also the first time in four years that Calling on the Capitol happened in person. In 2021, the event was held virtually because of COVID.
“Montanans like to make those personal connections,” said Rolf. “They like to be able to shake hands and look you in the eye – and our members, rural people are very friendly – so they really respond well to this personal interaction and the opportunity to thank legislators for the service that they provide here in Helena.”