The year 2010 will be long remembered in most of Montana for green grass all summer, low fire danger and heavy calves. For a change, Montana farmers and ranchers could really smile about the price they received for their commodities, from cattle to wheat and wool to sugar beets. Sure, there were a few times this summer and fall when you wondered if it would stop raining long enough to get your hay baled or your grain harvested, but Montanans will rarely cuss moisture, and we had moisture aplenty. It’s a real pat on the back for all that hard work you’ve done when you take the calves to the sale barn and receive a high price for them. The same with grain harvest. In agriculture, the market is so volatile that any time you receive a nice paycheck for those days and nights spent in the calving shed or on the combine—it truly is your reward for a job well done. Even more rewarding is the knowledge that you are providing food and fiber for a hungry world.
One of the reasons for high prices was a healthy export market. Agricultural exports are a shining star in U.S. trade. In addition, we have renewed hope trade deals with Panama, Korea and Colombia will continue to move ahead. An example of how important these trade agreements are to American agriculture and the U.S. economy is the Korean Free Trade Agreement. At full implementation of the deal, we estimate an increase of $1.8 billion in U.S. agricultural trade per year.
Social media became quite the buzz word in agriculture this year, with Montana Farm Bureau and the Montana Young Farmers and Ranchers putting up Facebook pages and even “tweeting.” What’s especially rewarding is many of our members began posting photos of their farms and ranches on these sites, as well as commenting on articles and blogs about agriculture. We have moved into a new realm of communicating directly to our consumers, and that is certainly good. Nobody can tell agriculture’s story like those who live it every day.
Near the end of the year, farmers and ranchers were given a real gift—the extension of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, which passed the House and Senate. Securing meaningful estate tax reform for farm and ranch families has been a top priority for both American and Montana Farm Bureaus. The House left intact the estate tax provision that provides a $5 million exemption and maximum rate of 35 percent. Other tax provisions included in the legislation, which are important for farmers and ranchers, include lower capital gains and income taxes and tax incentives for renewable fuels. With the increase in real estate prices in our state, a lot of farms and ranches have become valuable on paper. It was important to have estate tax relief so they can be passed on to the next generation.
Montana’s Legislative Session is about to get underway and Congress is about to convene in Washington, D.C. Both legislative bodies have some new faces, even some friendly to agriculture. We look forward to working with all of our elected officials on rural and agricultural issues. A new farm bill will be crafted and new regulations will be addressed. Budgets will be set, and plans for the coming year will be made. We look to 2011 with optimism.
Bob Hanson is a rancher from White Sulphur Spring.