Progress: Life on the Land

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Progress: Snapshot in Time 2014
Life on the Land
Agriculture Continues to Drive Economy
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Price $3.00 (all 4 sections)
Beaverhead County: Cattle Country ........... 3 Talking the hay-cow dynamic ..................... 6 Owners boost Dell meat operation ...............7 Extension offers soil advice .......................... 11
Partnership buys East Bench Grain ...........12 Lakeland Feed continues growth................18 R.E. Miller: 50 years working ag land .......14 Firm boosts fertilizer lines .......................... 22
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TELL US ABOUT PIONEER FEDERAL SAVINGS AND LOAN First and foremost, we are a mutual savings and loan. In America, mutual institutions were established nearly two centuries ago. These early mutuals were patterned after similar entities in England and Scotland and dedicated to encouraging thrift for middle - income consumers. Although Pioneer Federal has changed a great deal since our founding as a building and loan association in 1912, what remains unchanged is our belief that our mutual structure best serves the deposit and lending needs of our communities. WHO OWNS PIONEER FEDERAL SAVINGS AND LOAN? As a mutual savings and loan. Pioneer Federal is not publicly traded and has no shareholders. This means we serve just one constituency: our customers! More importantly, as a financial cooperative with our customers, we manage our business to protect the long term financial security of our institution, rather than the immediate returns prized by Wall Street or individual stockholders. While stock owned banks are under pressure to return profits to investors, we retain our earnings to create an added margin of safety, and as a result, we have one of the highest capital ratios for financial institutions in Montana. Another principle of mutuality is that our institution serves generations of customers-past, present, and future. Our Board and Management largely view themselves as stewards of a community resource and thus work to manage and improve the institution in preparation for a transfer to future generations. WHAT MAKES PIONEER FEDERAL SAVINGS AND LOAN DIFFERENT? Two words dominate our vision— service and independence. What makes us different from other institutions is our dedication to service, commitment and longevity. It is more efficient for a mutual savings and loan to focus on the needs of the local communities where the short term return for the institution is not a driving force or decision maker. A mutual can assess the needs and participate over a longer time horizon without market and earnings pressures. The independence possible as a mutual savings and loan is critical to preserving our community orientation. If we were a stock institution, we would be a prime target for acquisition by larger banks which do not have the same appreciation for our community and its needs. We compete daily with all forms of financial institutions. As a mutual we have no special treatment, in the marketplace or from bank regulators or taxing authorities. We either succeed or not on the same rules, the same competitive playing field, as other institutions. WHY PIONEER FEDERAL SAVINGS AND LOAN? By choice, we are a mutual savings and loan. Just like you, we want to do the right things for the right reasons. If we sound like the right financial institution for you, we would appreciate your business. Tom Welch President/CEO
32 North Washington • Dillon, Montana 59725 406.683.5191 •
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 3
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff There is no question that cattle rule the agricultural scene in Beaverhead County. There is a strong wheat, sheep and seed potato presence, but the market is dominated by cattle. The annual inventory hovers around 110,000 head, about 11 times the human population of Montana’s largest county by land area, a total that historically will lead the state in county cattle numbers. Hay production is a natural compliment to the cattle component, but the cow-calf operation has been the historical mainstay of the ranching industry in Beaverhead County. Like all business, there is constant change and economies of scale has more and more become a factor in ranching. One thing that hasn’t changed with cattle – it is a cash now business. “The cattle business is the only business that is all cash,” explained John Erb at the Beaverhead Livestock Auction. “If you sell hay, it’s on time. If you sell grain, it’s on consignment and it goes away for 30 days or 45 days or 60 days. Potatoes, the same thing. “People today (at a recent sale), they were in line and got paid and they were on their way to the bank. The cattle business is the only cash commodity business there is.” That cash dynamic of the cattle business in today’s electronic world requires trust and good faith with trading partners. It is not uncommon, according to Erb, to send 10 trucks down the road with a cattle cargo valued at $800,000. “If you’re a cattle buyer, the old cattle trader-type, it’s tough because you have to have a good bank and you have to have connections on the end,” said Kal. “If you write a guy a check for $800,000, where buyers to come together and make a deal. “What is a cow, what is a yearling, what is a bull worth?” asked Kal rhetorically. “That fluctuates by the day. We could have a higher or lower market than they might have in Butte or Three Forks or Idaho Falls, because they change the price of the underlying product – meat – on a daily basis.” To accurately compare markets, that comparison must be done on the same day. Another variable that factors into the market price is the cost of freight to ship the animals to a killing plant. That freight cost is revealed under price discovery. “So a cow in Dillon wouldn’t be worth as much as it would be in North Dakota because you have freight going over there,” explained Kal. “Net dollars, if I had to haul that cow over there, it would be the same as if I sold it here. Every one of these buyers knows what the freight is and they figure that in. Basically, the market is obviously to sell your cattle, but also for price discovery.” In today’s world, the cattle market plays out on the international stage. Global factors play a part in the price a producer can find at market, but in the end a producer is somewhat at the mercy of the buyers. “Ag is a price taker, not a price maker,” said Kal. “We lack a little bit of leverage because we have a perishable product. You can store grain, but cattle have a marketing time that is fairly limited in terms of these other commodities. You don’t have a lot of ability to wait it out. At some point, you have to take the price the market is dictating.” In contrast, a buyer could decide to quit selling hamburger and lay off employees.
Beaverhead County is
Watching the market
With strong prices for cattle, producers are happy but wary of input costs. In the photo above, Kal Erb and LeCense manager Race King follow the bidding at a recent sale at the Beaverhead Livestock Auction. J.P. Plutt photos
do you think he’s headed? The bank has to cover that the next day.” The Erb family is heavily involved in all aspects of the business. They are producers, own the auction yard, and are involved in banking. “The function of any market is price discovery,” explained Kal Erb, John’s son, of the role of Beaverhead Livestock Auction. “Most people don’t know how to market a cow because they don’t know how exactly they fit in grade.” Kal explains that there are many factors that come into play, including the age, flesh and fill of an animal as they compare to others in the market. Because of the number of variables, a livestock market provides a forum for both producers and
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industry. The price of milk bottomed out, and the dairies had no way of paying their input costs. “In ag, it is very difficult for the producer who didn’t protect himself,” Stated Kal. “You just can’t be your dad or your grandpa anymore because of the volume and dollars that are involved in it.” Two tools that are used to reduce that risk are options and hedges. The tools have been available for some 20 years, but unfounded horror stories have kept many producers away from the programs that can serve as insurance against the risk of erratic input costs. “If you go in with an ag lender and tell them, ‘This is what I have and this is what I’m going to do,’ if you stick with that plan and do what you say you’re going to do, ag lenders will stick with you,” explained Erb. “If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, you’re in big trouble.” While large numbers of cattle still roam the Beaverhead, the number of individual producers has dwindled due to the cost of doing business. “When I first came here a lot of people had a 200-cow outfit that was considered to be an average-sized outfit and you could do okay,” noted Kal, who added that a tractor that cost $25,000 then runs around $100,000 now. “The input costs have expanded so much that it’s hard to spread the cost of a $100,000 tractor and a $20,000 feeder against 200 cows. It just doesn’t work.” Looking forward, Kal feels operations will have to grow and become more efficient to survive. He adds that operators without debt could do what they wanted and run 100 head if they so desired, but in most cases, he feels an operation under 500 head will have difficulty dealing with input costs. “The entry into ag for a young person is virtually impossible,” said Erb, regarding the debt load a start-up rancher would have to take on. “A bred cow today is $1,600, and look at what land has done.”
The producer, doesn’t have that luxury. “A farmer or rancher, we don’t have that option of saying, I guess I’ll just lay this one out,” said Kal. “You have to have that land producing or you’re done. Ag is stable in the context that you have to be producing something all of the time.” That need to produce lends itself to consistent employment numbers in the agricultural sector. Erb said historical numbers indicate that agriculture is one of the state’s largest employers and feels that trend continues today both in Montana and Beaverhead County. A cattle producer must feed and water the animals every day. The quality of feed factors into the quality of the cow, but there is a price on that feed. “I would think that most producers would grow some if not all of their own hay,” said Kal. “If you do the analysis, and you’ve got the cattle, you’re better off to do the grazing and buy the hay if you’re growing wild hay. If the price of cattle go down and hay stays high, you’re better to grow the hay. Everybody is different depending on your input costs and everything else.” Kal has heard of instances of operations with pivots on alfalfa grazing the land rather than putting up the hay because of a better return on a per acre basis. “A lot of farmers aren’t equipped to do that, or they don’t want to,” added Erb. As he looks at the ag industry with his banking hat on, Erb is aware of the dangers of a producer failing to protect himself if he lets their product go without getting paid. He said the problem becomes a disaster if the product crosses state lines. “We put some educational programs on through the bank, trying to show producers different ways they can protect themselves,” said Kal. Erb is quick to relate two scenarios that have happened to producers. In one situation, a buyer promises to pay “X amount” of dollars for a farmer’s hay without putting any money down. He says he will
Dillon area rancher John Erb surveys the action in the auction ring during a recent sale at Beaverhead Livestock Auction. J.P. Plutt photo
pick the hay up and pay for it at a future time. The producer stops marketing the hay and tells the banker he has sold his hay for a good price. The price of hay drops dramatically, and the buyer never returns, leaving the producer with hay in the yard and an upset banker. In the second situation, the producer allows the buyer to take the hay with little money down. The buyer never returns with a check. This scenario played out in Idaho during a disaster year in the milk
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 5
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6 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Dave Schuett talks the hay and cattle dynamic
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Dillon’s David Schuett is highly invested in the Beaverhead County agricultural community. A cattle, wheat and hay producer, he also owns Frontline Ag, the John Deere dealership, and does custom haying and combining. On the hay front, he puts up about 50,000 tons a year, about half of which is his own crop. “It’s hard to say right now on price, because nobody is really buying hay,” said Schuett of the transition to spring. “I’d say anywhere from $125 to $165 a ton. The price is good, but maybe not quite as good as last fall. It has softened up a little bit.” Regarding the philosophy of forgoing growing hay in order to run more cattle, he feels it is an option under certain conditions. “If you’re in an area maybe not close to Dillon, a higher elevation and shorter growing season, maybe it is just as cost effective to buy the hay and pasture more of your ground,” Schuett reasoned. The cattle market currently rewards the producer with high prices, in part due to low inventories. “The price of cattle is good,” said Schuett. “They’re talking that weaned calves this fall should be anywhere from $1,000 on up so we’re at record levels, but there is a long time between now and then.” The positive price component for the producer is due to a fifth year of the low nation-wide cattle inventory and the effect of a growing global market for U.S. exports. “Part of the thing that has helped the demand for cattle is that the export market is up,” said Schuett. “It all factors in – the export market, the domestic market, everything.” Projecting forward, Schuett is cautious on the future of the cattle market. “The cattle deal is different in that it takes two years to raise a cow,” he explained. “The heifers we keep today won’t have a baby for two more years. Our numbers are low now, so as they build, the price will come back down.” Schuett acknowledges that agriculture has always been an important element of the Beaverhead County economy. “Unless it has changed, I think it is the No. 1 industry in Beaverhead County,” concluded Schuett. We’re the biggest hay producer and the biggest cow producer.”
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A hay wagon of small, square bales is loaded and ready for feeding just off the Airport Road north of Dillon. Improved efficiencies on the big ranching operations has evolved the industry from the small bales to large round bales t/hat require a piece of equipment to move. A demand for the small bales will continue to exist. J.P. Plutt photo
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Dell partners venture into meat processing
By M.P. Regan Dillon Tribune staff A greater number of Beaverhead County ranchers and hunters can travel a shorter distance to get their meat processed, thanks to the recent opening of the expanded L&S Meats and Processing plant in Dell. Part of Dell Mercantile for the past decade, L&S opened its new meat processing plant on Aug. 8, after about a half year of construction work. “We have six times the cutting room compared to what we had before,” said Paul LeMay Jr., who co-owns L&S Meats and the Dell Mercantile, with Jeanne and Joel Schnitzler. “Before, we had to push to get two beef done a day. Now, we can do four — and that capacity will accelerate as we move forward,” revealed LeMay, who said the new 2000-square-foot L&S facility qualifies as the largest meat processing plant in Beaverhead County. “We plan on getting even bigger,” said LeMay, who currently employs five people at the L&S plant. “As production increases, we plan on hiring more employees.” LeMay said he designed the new L&S plant to make work easier and more comfortable for his employees. “In our other building, every animal had to be handled in four pieces. Over here, it’s cut in half and everything can be rolled into the cooler,” revealed LeMay, who said the expanded L&S cooler now includes hooks and space for up to 40 animals. “We can now lower and raise the animal to the ideal height for each worker. I believe it has to be a comfortable atmosphere for people who work here, so they are happy doing their work and look forward to doing it,” added LeMay, who said the new L&S plant also includes a flash freezer that cools meat to 20 below zero, as well as vacuum packing and sealing capabilities According to Jeanne Schnitzler, the new L&S Meats plant was built with some
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 7
Paul LeMay Jr. and Jenne Schnitzler along with Joel Schnitzler (not pictured) are shown in front of their new meat processing plant at Dell. The venture takes the cow from the calf and prepares it for the plate. J.P. Plutt photo
help from the Montana’s Growth Through Agriculture (GTA) program, which seeks to strengthen and diversify the state’s agricultural industry through the development of new processes and products. GTA provided L&S Meats in 2013 with a $30,000 loan/grant to aid with construction costs for the new meat processing plant, and later kicked in another $7,500 for the purchase of a backpacker and advertisements promoting the business. “I think it’s important that people know they help small business to do things like this,” commented Schnitzler, who said she applied for GTA aid after hearing about the program from Headwaters Resource, Conservation and Development, a southwestern Montana organization that, according to its mission statement, seeks to provide clients with “access to essential resources that result in sustainable economic development and conservation management.” Schnitzler said L&S Meats has become a vital part of Dell Mercantile, which she and her husband, Joel started in 2005. Dell Merc now includes a food store, post office, meat shop, gift shop and Elk Mountain Lodging. “I call it ‘the one-stop shop,’ but some people around here call it ‘the mall of Dell,’ laughed Schnitzler, who said LeMay became an integral part of the Dell Mercantile operation a few months after it opened when he inquired about a meat cutting position the Schnitzlers had advertised for the 2005 fall hunting season. “We had hired somebody else for the job, but he told us he had to move, so we were just going to forget about it for the year. Then Paul came in and said he heard we were looking for a meat cutter. We hired him, and toward the end of hunting
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8 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
L & S Meat Processing
Continued from page 7
LeMay said the new L&S facility should also bolster the area’s economy during hunting season. “This facility accommodates hunters who come to this area; so they won’t have to travel with their carcasses,” offered LeMay, who said he can process wild game into jerky, pepper steaks, sausage, salami or just about anything else hunters would like. “They can stay in community while we do our work, and they’ll support the area’s restaurants and other businesses while they’re here.”
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In the cooler
Paul LeMay Jr. shows off the cooler at the L & S Meat Processing Plant at Dell. LeMay takes an animal in the back and runs it through the plant and produces finished meat products that go out the front door. J.P. Plutt photo
season I said to my husband, ‘this guy really knows what he’s doing, maybe we should ask him to stay on and do beef.’” A 41-year veteran of the meat business, LeMay said he learned his craft from his father and grandfather, who both worked in the meat business while he was growing up in rural New Hampshire. “I grew up in an atmosphere a lot like Dell, on a family farm, with cows on both sides of the road,” recalled LeMay, who said he left New Hampshire a decade ago because the family Farm & Ranch lifestyle he grew up with was getting pushed out of the part of the state he lived in. LeMay saw that lifestyle alive and well when he visited Beaverhead County, and decided to move here in 2005. He hopes his work at L&S Meats and its new meat processing plant can help sustain that lifestyle in the county. “I can see this area staying as an agricultural area for a long time to come, and I want to play a part in helping that happen. And I firmly believe that adding this type of facility to this community can help do that,” said LeMay, who thinks his approach to meat processing fits in with the area’s old-school agricultural approach. “Beef is beef — it’s what it is, not what you put in it. We will offer only 100 percent beef with no additives as long as I’m running the meat shop,” insisted LeMay. “You have a ranch, you raise these animals you really care about, and you know they are of high quality. We work with ranchers to get a label on the meat with their ranch’s name on it and indicating where it was processed,” added LeMay, who said state inspections of the L&S facility later this year will lead to the meat processed there becoming eligible to be shipped and sold anywhere in Montana. Matt Elvbakken, of the Montana Meat Processors Association, said consumers are placing increased emphasis on knowing the origins of the food they purchase. “I think people will feel more confident if they know where their meat comes from, if they know they can call Paul LeMay up and say, ‘Hey, I wanna buy half a beef, and know he can buy directly from a local rancher,” said Elvbakken, an owner of Tizer Meats in Helena. “You’re still going to have people who don’t give a rip about that sort of thing. But for people who don’t mind paying just a little bit more, it’s a growing market.”
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Montana State University Extension offering new publications on soil nutrient management for forage crops
BOZEMAN – Forage crops provide substantial income to many Montana farmers. They are also an integral part of livestock production systems. Improvements in forage production through good soil fertility practices have the potential to increase income for farmers and ranchers. Montana State University Extension has recently published two bulletins, “Soil Nutrient Management for Forages: Nitrogen” and “Soil Nutrient Management for Forages: Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, and Micronutrients.” These publications present soil nutrient management options for Montana forage production systems based on regional research results. The key to nutrient management for optimal forage yield and quality is to select the right fertilizer source, rate, placement and timing for your operation, known as the 4R concept. “These are usually interrelated. For example, the right rate, placement and timing are very dependent on the source,” said Clain Jones, co-author and Extension soil fertility specialist in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences (LRES) at Montana State University. In addition, selecting the right crop and the best management practices to maximize legume nitrogen fixation are also critical. “Getting it ‘right’ not only increases your bottom line, it also protects soil, water, and air resources,” said Jones. Nitrogen is the most common nutrient that needs to be added for production of forages containing a low percentage of legumes, while phosphorus and potassium are more important for those dominated by legumes. The correct balance of nutrients can influence stand species composition and is important for efficient fertilizer use and forage yield and quality. Fertilizer rates should be based on soil tests or plant tissue concentrations to ensure adequate amounts, yet minimize the risk of forage nutrient concentrations that are toxic to livestock. Timing of fertilizer application depends largely on the source in order to optimize the amount of nutrient that gets taken up by the crop, rather than lost to the environment. “Nutrient sources that slowly release their nutrients over time, such as manure, phosphate rock or elemental sulfur, can extend benefits over years, while many commercial inorganic fertilizers are more immediately available,” said Jones. Legumes may be the most economical source of nitrogen. “Because fertilizer can become tied up temporarily in the soil and plant material, the economic benefit of fertilization should be evaluated over several years,” said Jones. Adequate nutrients are key to sustaining stand health and most likely are less expensive than reseeding or interseeding.
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 11
If stands are largely desirable species, rejuvenating old forage stands with fertilizer is more effective than mechanical rejuvenation methods such as aeration or harrowing. “Well thought out nutrient management on forages can easily pay for itself,” said Jones. The bulletins are available as printed copies from MSU Extension,, or (406) 994-3273, as well as online at Jones’ webpage at http:// publications.html.
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FWP seeks bison relocation proposals
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking proposals from groups and agencies capable of taking up to approximately 135 disease-free bison to establish new or augment existing bison herds for conservation purposes. The animals are part of the Bison Quarantine Feasibility Study, a research project that began in 2004. These brucellosis-free bison have been part of the research herd since 2005 and 2006 from two capture groups. All animals have been tested for brucellosis twice a year, with most tested at least 10 times, and have always tested negative.
Montana FWP is offering the remaining 135 bison and their progeny to an agency or organization capable of taking the animals permanently and managing them for conservation purposes. Proposals must include a bison conservation and management plan, and describe suitable habitat and secure living space for the animals. For more information visit FWP online at Click Recent Public Notices. Proposals, which are due April 30, can be sent to Bison Translocation, Wildlife Division, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701. | Dillon - 406.683.1200
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New ownership
J.P. Plutt photos
Kent Graham is shown in front of East Bench Grain, Inc., a business he and partners Matt and Cale Christiansen recently purchased from Rick and Max Nield.
Nields sell grain elevator to partnership
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff A chance discussion between Rick Nield and Matt and Cale Christiansen led to the recent sale of East Bench Grain and Equipment to the Christiansen brothers and their friend Kent Graham. “I think a little bit my health and dad’s age,” said Rick Nield of the decision by he and his father Max to sell the company. “We never really put it up for sale, but Matt and Cale had a vision of Kent Graham. He is energetic, the guys like him and he has a base in ag. This is a good move for everybody.” According to Nield, the company became incorporated in 1973, but had started many years before then. The new partnership kept the company name, dropping the “and Machinary,” and going with East Bench Grain, Incorporated. Graham, who will be the managing partner, owns 50 percent of the company and each of the Christiansen brothers will be silent partners and own 25 percent each. “As far as business decisions will go, we confide in each other and I keep them posted, on the day-to-day management and the direction of the company, that’s all me.” Graham met Cale during their college days at Montana Tech, maintained that friendship after leaving school. When the brothers recognized the business opportunity they presented the opportunity to Graham who jumped at the chance to return to Montana. Graham grew up in Chester at the heart of Montana’s Golden Triangle, on a dry land farm with a beef production side. After graduating from Montana Tech with a degree in metallurgical engineering, he worked three years at a gold mine in Nevada, and three years at a molybdenum mine in Colorado. He then returned to farming and ranching on the new family place in North Dakota. “This gave me the opportunity to move back to Montana, which I had been looking for to bring my family here, and so we jumped in feet first and here we are,” said Graham, two-year starter at quarterback for the Orediggers. “We moved here two days before Christmas and it was 40 degrees above here in Dillon. It was a 70-degree improvement from when we left North Dakota.” “It has been a great move for the whole family,” said Graham. “The kids are doing great in school, it is a very family oriented community full of good people.” Graham and his wife, Vanessa, have three children: two boys, Daxon and Treyton, ages 11 and 9, and a daughter, Kenleigh, 7. Graham hit the ground running at the grain elevator. “What is fun about this business is that there is something new every day,” said Graham. “As far as the marketing goes, I’ve got a very good grasp on that. I feel fortunate because I walked in the producer shoes for 14 years before I walked in these shoes. I was on the other side of marketing my product, both in grain and cattle.” Graham says the the business offers access to the railroad at a reasonable freight rate to the producers. A profit margin is built into the transaction on a per bushel basis. “The producers call in and see what the market is doing and we do the best we
Continued to page 14
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Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 13
14 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Livestock producers affected by severe weather urged to keep good records
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Juan M. Garcia, repeated his appeal to livestock producers affected by natural disasters such as the drought in the West and the unexpected winter storm in the upper Midwest to keep thorough records. This includes livestock and feed losses, and any additional expenses that are a result of losses to purchased forage or feed stuff. “The 2014 Farm Bill provides a strong farm safety net to help ranchers during these difficult times,” said Garcia. “We’ll provide producers with information on new program requirements, updates and signups as the information becomes available. In the meantime, I urge producers to keep thorough records. We know these disasters have caused serious economic hardships for our livestock producers. We’ll do all we can to assist in their recovery.” In addition to western drought and the early-winter snowstorms, there are a variety of disasters from floods to storms to unexpected freezes. Each event causes economic consequences for farmers and ranchers throughout the United States. FSA recommends that owners and producers record all pertinent information of natural disaster consequences, including: • Documentation of the number and kind of livestock that have died, supplemented if possible by photographs or video records of ownership and losses; • Dates of death supported by birth recordings or purchase receipts; • Costs of transporting livestock to safer grounds or to move animals to new pastures; • Feed purchases if supplies or grazing pastures are destroyed; • Crop records, including seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records; • Pictures of on-farm storage facilities that were destroyed by wind or flood waters; and • Evidence of damaged farm land. Visit or an FSA county office to learn more about FSA programs and loans.
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Continued from page 12
so there is always that hay demand and that plays a role in it (wheat production),” explained Graham. “What the commodity prices are versus hay – it really comes down to net dollars per acre and what can they make the most money doing.” Graham said red wheat prices have recently been strong, bouncing between $7.75 and $8 a bushel. A month ago, the price had dipped below $7. “When they call in to get a bid, we call directly down to the mill and see what they’re offering,” said Graham of the process. “We pass that back to the producers and do a direct contract.” Graham feels the upcoming year should be good “if the water situation doesn’t get any worse.”
can to get them the best price we can by sending it straight to the mill,” explained Graham. “These guys are very blessed through here that they raise very good wheat, so it gives us the capability to keep it here domestically within the mill system.” The quality of grain determines whether it goes to a mill, where it earns a premium price, or if it is used in the feed market. Most of the feed market wheat will go the export market route according to Graham. According to Nield, around 500 rail cars of area wheat shipped out of East Bench last year for a total in the area of 2.5 million bushels. “This is still a strong cattle community
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16 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Ag promotion focus of National Women’s Leadership conference
Lillian Ostendorf, a Powderville rancher who serves as western representative on the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee, recently attended the Women’s Leadership Committee Chairs/Promotion and Education Committee (P&E) Conference in Washington, D.C. She was joined by Debbie Bricker, District 3 chair of the Montana Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC), who was representing Montana at the event. This was the first time the WLC state chairs’ meeting was held in conjunction with the state Promotion and Education Committees. “Our Women’s Leadership Committee and the people in P&E are all on the same page as to helping educate consumers about agriculture,” noted Ostendorf. “It’s going to work out well to be able to share projects and work together.” “I attended the media training workshops which are always worthwhile, but this time what I really enjoyed was networking with the state chairs and learning what they are doing within their states. You learn so much,” noted Debbie Bricker. The new AFBF WLC program, Our Food Link, was launched at the meeting, with the women receiving tool kits to bring public agricultural education at home. The first project of Our Food Link was a visit to the American History Museum where the women toured the current food exhibit and visited with the museum’s visitors, talking to them about food and agriculture. Because of the weather, visits to local schools were cancelled, so the women had the opportunity to spend additional time with Smithsonian Museum staff on a new agriculture exhibit slated to open in 2015. “The director working on the exhibit arranged for our entire group of farmers and ranchers to give them feedback on their upcoming food and agriculture exhibit,” noted Ostendorf. “They are planning to have an interactive exhibit, as well as a website where farmers and ranchers will be able to share blogs or post stories. We talked to them about the difference between beef and dairy cattle. We did provide feedback.” “They will have a module that simulates driving a tractor and what you’re seeing out the cab window, so they wanted to know if a farmer was looking at a monitor in his tractor, what would he see on that monitor besides ground speed and bushels per acre?” Bricker said. “What else might he be looking at? Possibly commodity markets or weather? We tried to explain that there is so much more to farming, that it is an ongoing process of researching weather, history, input costs, end product costs and so forth.” During their time in Washington, D.C., Ostendorf, Bricker and her husband, Earl, a Moore grain farmer, visited Capitol Hill. “We had the opportunity to meet with both Congressman Steve Daines and Senator Jon Tester,” noted Ostendorf. “We talked about Farm Bureau and visited about issues of concern, such as listing sage grouse as an endangered species, keeping “navigable” in the Clean Water Act, and tax reform. Both senators were interested in what we had to say and were very supportive.” “The women in leadership roles in Farm Bureau are very well informed and very involved,” noted Bricker. “They work on and off the farm, they work with their state Ag in the Classroom programs and participate in all of the WLC activities. They are very supportive of agriculture and are doing their best to inform the non-farming public about the work done by farmers and ranchers to put food on the table.”
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Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 17
18 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Owner attributes 50 years of success to employees
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Tom Miller has guided R.E. Miller since becoming president of his father’s company in 1977. He started with the company in 1974, but he fondly remembers the time many years earlier when his dad advised him to go work for an area rancher. “I had done work for my dad all through high school, but I actually had a chance to work for him when I was a sophomore,” recalled Tom of the time he asked R.E. Miller about a job. “I asked him if he wanted me to work for him or if I should go to work for Arnold Benson. He told me to go work for Arnold and it was really good for me because I learned a lot about cattle and learned a lot about water. I think my dad was very wise with that decision.” The time on the Benson ranch was a precursor to the time his crews now spend on area ranch land. Over the winter, nearly 100 percent of the work the company did was on ranches owned by absentee outof-staters. R.E. Miller and Sons has built a solid reputation in the area of natural resource enhancement, and the reputation has resulted in 60 percent of the business attributed to stream restoration and other such enhancement projects. “They want fishing opportunities and they’re looking to improve the aesthetics,” said R.E. Miller Project Manager Chris Mehring. “We build a relationship with a client and they just keep doing more every year. I keep thinking we’re going to run out of them, but they keep coming up.” Tom Miller uses Mehring to illustrate the importance he places on the 37 employees at R.E. Miller. “I don’t know what we’d do without Chris,” said Miller. “If you don’t have good employees, you don’t have a good company, and we have great employees. And you have to take it a step further and include the spouses who are so supportive.
Key to success
Continued to page 19
R.E. Miller and Sons President Tom Miller, to the left of the man in the blue hard hat, insisted on getting as many of his employees as he could in the photo for the story on his company. He feels that the employees are the key to the company’s success. J.P. Plutt photo
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Continued from page 18
for the company. Tom understands that his company must generate income all year — the winter is not a time to shut down and relax. “You have to work in order to stay in business,” said Tom. “How can you make your payments and payroll if you don’t work all winter. Even if we don’t have the work, we might cut hours, but we always try to keep our core people. We don’t want to lose them, they’re our greatest asset.” Thus, the diversity and the step into the world of natural resource enhancement. “It has been awesome,” said Miller of the work for out-of-state clients. “That is part of the reason we love the work that we do is because of those customers. “On the other side of the coin, we have a lot of customers that dad had when he started the business. We do work for the Hirschy Ranch every year, and I can remember going up and visiting Dick Hirschy in the first years dad was doing business.” Miller emphasizes the importance of the entire customer base in keeping the company strong; every single customer is important.
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 19
“Those people are as much a mainstay of our business as the out-of-state landowner,” said Miller. “If we didn’t have that customer base – the irrigation work and all of that – that’s as important a part of our business as anything.” It is the time of year when landowners need their irrigation system tuned up. From headgates to measuring devices to drain control structures, the agricultural community is ready to begin irrigation, and everybody wants their water. “About a week before they want to irrigate, 10 of them will call you and want to get the same thing done,” said Mehring. Miller admits that from now through June 1, “it is intense.” As the company has developed and adapted to situations, they have become a soldier in the arctic grayling army. The Big Hole ranchers have become aware that they cannot take all of their allotted water out of the river to water their livestock during the hot months of June and August. The resulting low water is detrimental to the survival of the fish. So they have moved toward solar powered stock systems and such. “You have to do it all in order to keep your people,” said Miller. “If we just focused on one thing, we wouldn’t have had the successes that we’ve had.” Miller knows the pain of sending crews home because there is no work available. “You learn in those slow times, and it makes you a stronger company,” said Miller. “Is life always rosy? No. God puts trials in our path to make us stronger.” At 63, Miller will trust in God that the company will continue moving forward. “I don’t have any plans to retire,” said Miller. “I have a pretty sweet job. How good of a job is it when you can go up in the mountains and look at a job. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m not going anywhere.”
“And I’m a firm believer that God is the one in control of this business, I’m just an instrument. We’re very blessed.” Miller feels the company has a family atmosphere. To celebrate the company’s 50 years in business, Tom’s wife Becky had the idea of taking the employees and their spouses on a trip. The company paid the tab for the large group to spend time at Saint Lucia. “It was as much for the spouses as it was for the employees,” said Tom. “It was a thank you.” Another key to the company’s success, is its willingness to try any job. “Diversity is another key,” said Miller. “In 1983 we started doing Forest Service roads. Because of some of the equipment we bought to do those roads, we started to get into stream reclamation, and it has just evolved from there into ponds and wetlands reclamation. That reclamation work is now a major portion of the business. Another time, the company was asked to haul manure from Dillon to the Anaconda Superfund site. They took the job, changed some things on their trucks and the job has been a solid earning venture
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20 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Pflieger builds on C & C success with clear ideas
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Lakeland Feed & Seed owner Mike Pflieger has the ability to know what it wants, and translate that idea into a clear, concise message. He has built a solid business plan in that manner, and the former commodities trader has in four years doubled the work force at the Dillon store and increased his business at the store. “Of course we bought a great business (C & C Farm & Ranch Supply) from Jack and Joe (Champine) and we tried to do everything that they did and maintain that and then go forward,” said Pflieger. “We added inputs to that program, both fertilizer and chemical spraying, and more feed because we have a feed mill in Hamilton.” Before coming over the hill, Pflieger had purchased a feed mill in Hamilton. He admits that he almost started the first year when the feed mill production was not in cycle. He soon began to add to the mix to fill out the year-long schedule, adding a fertilizer plant and then efficiently using his work force. “On the months that we were weak, we added enterprises that were synergistic – this guy knows how to mix feed, he surely could be trained to mix fertilizer, and this guy hauls grain, he surely could run fertilizer,” explained Pflieger. “So with the same piece of equipment, we get another two months of production. So efficiency-wise, it raised the whole ship in the water.” Pflieger has built a network of 40 independent feed dealers in western Montana, Idaho and Washington. In addition to selling those outfits Lakeland feed products, he redistributes pet food, bagged fertilizer and animal health products to the tune of two semi-truck loads of pet food a month. So for a customer who may have a horse, a dog, a few chickens and a cat, but a limited budget, Pflieger wants to sell that person a weekly or bi-weekly basis a bag of this and a bag of that and maybe a few small bales of hay for the horse. 0373_04472
Feeling at home
Mike Pflieger, owner of Lakeland Feed & Supply, has adopted Dillon as his new hometown. Pflieger purchased C & C Farm & Ranch Supply from Joe and Jack Champine, and while his company headquarters are in Hamilton, he has chosen Dillon as the place to raise his children. J.P. Plutt photo
At the Dillon store, he built on the Champines’ model by adding related products. “Truly, when you acquire another company, we all read in the Wall Street Journal that synergies are made,” explained Pflieger. “I can say that Jack and Joe sold a tremendous amount of seed. Well, if you’re planting a seed, you need to fertilize it and you need to spray it. We said, by the way, we have this.” Pflieger has the Lakeland world headquarters in the 5,000-square-foot farm store in Hamilton. On the same four acres he has the feed mill, a fertilizer plant, a big shop, big hay barn, and distribution warehouse. The Dillon work force has doubled to 12 employees, and there are 20 employees at Hamilton. Pflieger moved to Dillon when he bought C & C. “I grew up in an ag community and Dillon reminded me more of that,” said Pflieger. “The Bitterroot has been good to me. It is a beautiful place, but there is a lot of arguing in the Bitterroot about what is the highest calling for the land. We don’t have to argue that here. We know what the highest use is – cattle and farming. “I like the ag flavor and I’ve found that people treat you how you treat them.”
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Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 21
Replace this text with your dealership specific information. 201 E Helena • Dillon, MT
*XP Sales Event offers valid 3/1/14 to 4/30/14, see dealer for details. Warning: The Polaris RANGER® and RZR® are not intended for on-road use. Driver must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver's license to operate. Passengers must be at least 12 years old and tall enough to grasp the hand holds and plant feet firmly on the floor. All SxS drivers should take a safety training course. Contact ROHVA at or (949) 255-2560 for additional information. Drivers and passengers should always wear helmets, eye protection, protective clothing, and seat belts. Always use cab nets or doors (as equipped). Be particularly careful on difficult terrain. Never drive on public roads or paved surfaces. Never engage in stunt driving, and avoid excessive speeds and sharp turns. Riding and alcohol/drugs don't mix. Check local laws before riding on trails. ATVs can be hazardous to operate. Polaris adult models are for riders 16 and older. For your safety, always wear a helmet, eye protection and protective clothing, and be sure to take a safety training course. For safety and training information in the U.S., call the SVIA at (800) 887-2887. You may also contact your Polaris dealer or call Polaris at (800) 342-3764. ©2014 Polaris Industries Inc.
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22 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Solid hay and cattle markets build Wilbur-Ellis
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Bill Wehri became branch manager of the Wilbur-Ellis fertilizer plant south of Dillon when the company bought out a previous owner in 2010. While Wehri became the face of the new company on the local level, he was very familiar with the customer base in the area. Wehri began his fertilizer career in Dillon at Williams Feed in 1978 and his now wife Louise hired on at the company in 1979. They married four years later. With the lenghty background and history of the local agriculture scene, Wehri has a good feel for the pulse of the business. “It’s a growing market,” Wehri said. “The hay market has been strong and the cattle market is good. Both things are major factors in this market. We have a fair market of small grain clientele and the potato thing is fairly small, but it seems to be continuously growing. “As a rule, the ag market is good here in Beaverhead County.” Wehri’s concern for the coming growing season is a potential water problem for irrigators. “The snowpack didn’t come in good for our East Bench clientele and it affects the west side too,” He said. “The Centennial Valley is pretty low on snowpack. Clark Canyon Reservoir and Lima Reservoir are not going to fill this year, so that will present some struggles.” The last time Wehri checked the Lima Reservoir level, it was at 30 percent, and the south end of Beaverhead County did not get the winter moisture of the north end of the county. Prior to Wilbur-Ellis buying the facility, the fertilizer market suffered through a volatile period, with wild spikes in pricing. “We weren’t used to that then, it was unusual, but it has become the norm now,” Wehri said, illustrating the importance of the economies of scale that Wilbur-Ellis brings to the Dillon plant. Wilbur-Ellis has an international presence with facilities in Asia, Australia, New
Start spreading the word
J.P. Plutt photo
Bill and Louise Wehri are excited about the growing business at Wilbur-Ellis, a fertilizer company located south of Dillon. Wehri is the branch manager and is assisted in the office by his wife. The couple have been working together since 1979.
Zealand and Japan, as well as the North America. In Montana, there are WilburEllis distribution centers in Great Falls and Billings. “We have a fleet of trucks that run the state,” Wehri said. “We get deliveries twice a week here, and we can schedule deliveries to the doorstep anywhere in the state.” The company resources have also helped Wehri deal with the increasing burden of OSHA and EPA regulations. “There are more regulations all of the time and that has required a big effort from us,” Wehri said. “Wilbur-Ellis has been awesome as far as helping us and training us and showing us how to do it. They are very supportive.” The company is also supportive and generous within the communities that they live. Wehri says the Dillon branch covers Madison and Beaverhead County. In recent years, Wilbur-Ellis made a donation to the Jackson Volunteer Fire Department to help the group purchase Jaws of Life equipment, and in 2013 donated money to help the Sheridan FFA purchase and develop a farm site for town kids to work with. The Dillon Wilbur-Ellis branch employees seven full-time people and adds part-time help during the busy season.
Brooke Erb
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• Owner of E Bar Cattle for 28 years. • Office manager for the UMW Student Senate for 12 years. • Director of UMW Safe Ride program for seven years. • Former supervisor of the UMW recycling program. • Former certified medical assistant for seven years. • Co-chair Beaverhead County DUI Task Force. • Board member Youth Connections mentoring program. • Member BOA and organized the annual Veteran Hunt. • Former board member of the Southwest Montana Arts Council. • Land owner/participant in CCAA to protect Arctic grayling habitat.
Paid for by Brooke Erb for House District 72.
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Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 23
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