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Montana Agriculture

Young farmers and ranchers optimistic about the future
Story By Three Rivers Edition Staff of The Montana Standard
April 6, 2004 

Despite draught and BSE worries, many of Montana's young farmers and ranchers are optimistic this year.     

Young farmers and ranchers this year expressed an unprecedented high level of optimism regarding their futures in agriculture, but said they continue to be challenged by overall profitability and would like to see government do more to help young people just starting in farming.

The 12th annual survey of participants in the American Farm Bureau Federation's Young Farmer and Rancher Program revealed that 81 percent of the respondents said they were more optimistic about agriculture than five years ago - up more than 20 percentage points from last year and the highest level of optimism since the survey's inception in 1993. The previous high mark for stated optimism was 80.7 percent in 1997.

"Despite some challenges in 2003, I do think Montana's young farmers and ranchers are optimistic," said Thad Willis, Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher committee member. "As great as the BSE scare could have been, Montana's producers came through it well because the demand for beef nationally stayed high, and exports continued in some outside markets."

Willis said the young crop producers have reasons to be positive, as well. "There are a lot of possibilities, especially around Great Falls. The malt plant certainly will help for producing value-added crops. We went in to the late summer dry, but had good moisture in the fall. Also, it seems that export activity is beginning to accelerate."

For the sixth straight year America's young farmers and ranchers said the biggest challenge facing them is overall profitability. "Your bottom line encompasses everything. You have to pay your bills whether you're in a drought, whether prices are low, and whether there are trade issues," noted Willis, a grain farmer in Big Sandy.

When quizzed about their opinions regarding the public's attitude toward farmers and ranchers, 43.4 percent (up from 35.9 percent last year) said they thought the public would weigh in positively, 20.4 percent said the public would respond negatively and 36.2 percent said they thought members of the public generally did not think about them at all.

"In Montana, the ag organizations, such as Montana Farm Bureau, are doing more to get their opinion out to the public," said Willis. "We're seeing agriculture highlighted more in the news." 

Montana Farm Bureau's Young Farmer and Rancher program is one way to keep and attract more young people involved in agriculture.

Chairman Jeff Welborn of Dillon has seen the program's membership grow in his three years as chairman.

"We give young producers what they want-information, leadership training and a voice-and that's why they join," said Welborn. "They realize the far-reaching benefits to being involved."

The program has a free leadership campout every July in Lewistown. This year, it's July 24-26. The committee sends members to the American Farm Bureau's Annual YF&R Leadership conference and will host a statewide young farmer ag conference this October.

Copyright the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.

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