Innovating our agricultural foundation

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Agriculture is the foundation of Montana’s economy, contributing over five billion dollars annually in recent years as the state’s top industry. With our nearly 60 million acres of farmland statewide, we take pride in our contributions to the state and across the globe. However, just as the world was different even twenty years ago, it is going to be different in the next five, ten, and hundred years down the road. We need to continue to address our current and future challenges by finding new and innovative ways to increase the quality and sustainability of agriculture in tomorrow’s world.

Despite our state’s deep roots in agriculture, the challenges facing Montana’s farmers are ever-evolving and increasingly demand advanced solutions. In recent years, the value of Montana’s crop production has been on the decline. From 2013 to 2014, the value fell a significant 14 percent to just over $2.2 billion. When coupled with lower commodity prices, fluctuating crop yields, and weather changes, the hurdles continue to grow. These challenges stand to negatively impact farmers and consumers here in Montana and worldwide. With over 27,800 ranches and farms in Montana in 2014, chances are a neighbor is being negatively impacted by the constant change that threatens our ability to farm efficiently and effectively.

Everyone can agree that innovation is critical to Montana’s economic growth moving forward. From our annual Innovate Montana Symposium to encouraging companies to support new research and development in the state, our communities recognize the value in innovation. A great example is the research and development center by Universal Technical Resource Services, INC (UTRS) that was opened in 2010 to find other ways to produce titanium. After years of research and testing, they successfully created a better way of producing titanium – cutting refining costs significantly. This is just one example of how research and development can help Montana take the next step towards a better and more efficient future.

While it is important to focus on the impact of innovation in the obvious industries, such as startups and high-tech manufacturers, it is also important that innovation doesn’t stop there. For instance, innovations in farming stand to have a significant impact in coming years. Due to severe weather and drought, there are areas across Montana where agricultural productivity once faced huge challenges. Today however, thanks to investments in research, farmers are able to grow and protect their crops more easily, while increasing productivity, predictability, and profitability. These advances are leading to higher production with less risk—a key to economic sustainability for farmers.

Just as irrigation has solved many agricultural issues for our farming community, advances in biotechnology and digital farming also stand to make a very positive impact on the industry. These types of innovations are only possible with the help of our farming partners—agricultural companies. When seed and crop protection companies work hand-in-hand with farmers to improve farming methods, positive advancements follow.

Innovation across all sectors is critical to our state’s economic success. If we continue to support innovation in our communities, we will no doubt be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Not all of our problems will be solved in a day, but with a continued commitment to innovation, agriculture will remain a strong economic foundation for Montana.

Taylor Brown is a well-known agricultural broadcaster and former State Senator from Huntley

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