As all know, Montana is primarily an agricultural state. It is the largest industry we have. In my view we have had a very limited view of how to go about this. Our leaders and farmers are stuck in the "this is cow country" mentality and thus holding our economy back. I'll deal with a few of the issues here with more to follow in later blogs.
First off we raise better than 3 million cattle a year here in Montana, Yet 90% of these are shipped out of state for slaughter and processing. Then we import most processed meat back into the state. MAJOR MISTAKE. In the first place this cost the Montana consumer more in the market place for our food. Providing locally raised and processed is always the best route. Next we should be exporting value added products. The cattle we ship out of state would add a vast amount of cash and jobs into our economy if it were in the form of steaks, ground beef and the likes vs on the hoof. We are way up the ladder as far as a production state goes but at the bottom of the pile where it comes to the economic value of what we raise. This has nothing to do with market value and everything to do with a raise it and ship it mentality. The beef industry is just like our wheat. If wheat is going for $3.50 a bushel for raw wheat, we process it into flour it's worth $15 for that same bushel. Bake it into a finished product like bread and that bushel of wheat is then worth better than $100 to us. Beef is no different.
Next question is the lamb market. We pay a high price for lamb no matter what part of the country you live in. Yet the market for this meat is supplied by out of country producers for the most part. The bulk of our lamb though out the U.S. is imported from Argentina. Montana is poised for a major market share in this area. In my view our ranchers need to diversify and take advantage of the lamb market, and not put all their eggs in one basket. I know their view is "but a cow is worth more per animal", or raising sheep is sissy and not cowboy enough. This is very small minded and short sighted to say the least. Nor is it very well thought out. Market value for lamb per processed pound is better than beef.
There will be more blogs to come on the agricultural aspects and benefits for our state to follow soon.