Montana Sustainable Agriculture and Trade

Sustainable Family Farms and Ranches

By ruin of farmers and rural communities, by erosion, pollution, and various kinds of industrial and urban development, we have ominously degraded and reduced the long-term food-producing capacity of our country.
– Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers

One of our core beliefs at Northern Plains is our belief that family-based sustainable agriculture and ranching are good for Montana’s economy, our environment, and our rural communities. Montana is a better place when family farms and ranches are thriving.


Soil Health

Soil Health


“If we could increase the carbon in all of the Earth’s agricultural soils by just 1%, we could reverse climate change” – Kristin Ohlson, speaker at Northern Plains’ Annual Meeting 2015

Healthy soils provide every advantage to farmers and their communities: higher yields, better water storage, less erosion, healthier food, and carbon storage. But this all takes a lot of time and resources. Join us in learning how to build healthy soils, monitor them, and find policy solutions to make it all possible.


Local Foods

We’re building local food systems to put the power and money into the hands of our local producers and local economies in a big way.

dean_vista, Montana Agriculture

More than 90% of food products sold are from outside the state or country

Montanans spend $3 billion each year on food and more than 90% of the food products sold in Montana now come from outside the state or outside the country. If Montanans were to consume only 1% more locally produced food, we would keep nearly $30 million in our state. This could translate to over $110 million as each purchase of locally produced food multiplies into additional purchases, providing local jobs, and promoting locally owned businesses, thus resulting in community prosperity.

Every time consumers spend money, we are determining the kind of local economy we would like to have. Our votes as consumers – especially organized consumers – are easily as powerful as any election ballot we will ever cast.

Click here to learn about what Northern Plains and our affiliates are doing to make local foods more accessible through the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub!


Genetically Modified (GMO) Wheat

Genetically modified wheat is a threat to Montana’s largest industry, whose buyers refuse to buy GM crops.  It must be stopped from introduction into the marketplace until protections are put in place for Montana wheat growers. 

In 2014, genetically modified wheat, unapproved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was found in Huntley at Montana State University’s Southern Agriculture Research Center, formerly a testing location for Monsanto’s GM wheat between 2000 and 2003.

Dena Hoff, an organic farmer near Glendive and member of Northern Plains Resource Council, has been working to strengthen test plot rules to protect organic and conventional farmers from contamination. “The USDA needs to be held responsible for this,” she said. “It is their lack of regulation and rule-making that has allowed this to happen. They decided to ignore the side of common sense, that we can’t control nature, and instead to go with industry control.”


GM Wheat Factsheet

Farm Bill

GMO Foods

Sustainable agriculture preserves soil

Family-based sustainable agriculture and ranching are good for Montana’s economy, our environment, and our rural communities. Montana is a better place when family farms and ranches are thriving, and we need a Farm Bill that supports that.

A good farm bill will:

  • Provide a reasonable rate of return to farmers, to sustain farm families, agricultural infrastructure, and rural communities.
  • Assure a reasonable rate of return to public and private providers of farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers, etc.), information, services, and technology.
  • Preserve and regenerate soil, water, and biological resources upon which farming depends, and avoids adverse impacts on the natural environment.
  • Increase productivity and per-acre yields at least in step with the growth in demand.
  • Adhere to social norms and expectations of fairness, equity, compliance with regulations, food safety, and ethical treatment of workers, animals, and other creatures sharing agricultural landscapes.

Livestock Issues

livestock, Montana Agriculture

Four corporations own 84% of U.S. livestock

We’re restoring competition to the meatpacking industry by boosting the 16% of independent meat processors and taking power from the Big 4 meat packers who take profits from ranchers and exploit consumers. We still believe that Country of Origin Labeling is an important right of all ranchers to have their products labeled born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S.A.

Four giant meatpacking corporations control over 84% of the U.S. livestock market. Northern Plains has fought for ranchers and consumers to get fair prices, and not let the big 4 have all the power. Now, instead of breaking down the powerful and wealthy 84%, how can we boost the 16% of the meat processors that are independent, family run businesses that pay our producers competitive prices?

See the 16% report here.


Country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) History

Country-of-origin labeling is a standard practice for most products, with the notable exception of the food we eat and feed to our families.
Northern Plains, in cooperation with WORC and other farm and ranch groups, had succeeded in gaining passage of country-of-origin labeling in the 2002 Farm Bill. However, years passed without the U.S. Department of Agriculture promulgating the rules necessary to make country-of-origin labeling a reality until 2008.

In the meantime, we moved forward with action at the state level in 2005. After two packed hearings, contentious debates in the Legislature, and a dozen amendments, the Montana Country-of-Origin Labeling Act was signed into law. It gave Montana producers of beef, pork, lamb, and poultry the ability to label their products as Made in Montana.

In 2011 the World Trade Organization challenged the U.S. COOL requirements, stating that they set an unfair trade barrier, and were too expensive for packers. The USDA responded by strengthening the rules. Now, labels must state where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered, rather than just “Product of North America.” The proposed rules also prohibit packers from commingling livestock from different origins.
In 2015, the WTO slapped a $1.1 billion fine against the U.S. for COOL, so Congress repealed the law.


Border rally with Canadian farmers against the devastating results of NAFTA in 1999

Northern Plains has led grassroots efforts in Montana to stop the TPP, NAFTA, and other international deals that give more power to corporations and take away the rights of individuals and small businesses. These deals are not about trade, as we support trade of goods and services between countries.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement:

TPP would give:

  • Rights for foreign companies to acquire land, natural resources, factories without government review
  • Incentive to offshore to low wage countries
  • Compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor environmental, laws
  • Rights to move capital without limits
  • New rights to cover intellectual property, permits, and derivatives

Biggest issues with the TPP:

FOOD SAFETY: The U.S. currently rejects a significant portion of food imports from TPP countries like Vietnam and Malaysia as unsafe, but TPP would require us to accept food imports that do not meet U.S. safety standards.

ISDS LAWYERS: TPP will allow foreign corporations to sue the U.S. government in private tribunals/ corporate courts run by three corporate lawyers who rotate between judging these cases and representing corporations, which is a conflict of interest, and there is no outside appeal.

ISDS FUTURE PROFITS: Under TPP, the American taxpayers could be forced to pay foreign corporations compensation for any American law or safety rule. They can sue for their current losses but also future expected profits, and there is no limit to the amount they can win from U.S. taxpayers.

LOWER WAGES/FEWER JOBS: TPP will pit American workers against workers in Vietnam making less than 65 cents an hour. Economists who have looked at this deal say it will lower wages for 90 percent of Americans and gives corporations more incentives to move American jobs overseas. 

ISDS CORPORATE RIGHTS: TPP gives foreign corporations that come to the U.S. even more rights and privileges than the American people and our businesses, and elevates foreign corporations to the status of the U.S. government by allowing them to sue our country in special tribunals/corporate courts.

SECRET CORPORATE NEGOTIATIONS: The terms of the new TPP trade agreement were negotiated in secret with over 500 corporate advisors, but the people, the press, and even the U.S. Congress were shut out so it favors corporations, not working families.  

BIPARTISAN DISAPPROVAL: For the first time, the presidential nominees of both parties, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, oppose this new trade agreement because it does nothing to stop currency manipulation, will hurt U.S. wages and jobs, and means higher drug prices.  

BAD FOR CLIMATE: All of the countries in the world are working to combat climate change, but TPP would forbid many of the policies we need to stop the climate crisis.


TPP Factsheet

For more information, see Landowner Rights under “The Issues.”

220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154