By Jack Jennaway; Business Advocacy Coordinator
This week is Agriculture Celebration Week in Billings. You will very often hear that Agriculture is Montana’s number one industry, meaning that it makes up the lion’s share of the local Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it is so much more than that. Agriculture provides the food and fiber we too often take for granted; the farmers and ranchers in rural Yellowstone County and beyond contribute mightily to the urban economy in Billings; and Agriculture, in many ways, serves as the foundation of our local history and culture. This week the Billings Chamber of Commerce invites you take the opportunity to learn more about Ag industry right here in your neighborhood and reflect on how our largest industry impacts your life.
Agriculture is all about providing the foundational necessities of life. Somewhere in the world in March 2020, some economist made a wish on a monkey’s paw that people would think more about supply chains— and now here we are.
American’s are not used to experiencing scarcity, especially where food is concerned. In fact, the United States is the world’s breadbasket—producing and exporting more food than anywhere else in the world by more than double. Even so, there is a good chance that if you go to the grocery store today, the lettuce grown in the southern US simply wasn’t able to make it to Billings. This has brought local production to the forefront of a lot of Billings residents’ minds, and while our climate will never be able to produce everything a consumer would want, local farmers and ranchers produce wheat, barley, corn, sugar beets, potatoes, chicken, eggs, beef, wool, milk, feed for livestock, and more. We will be highlighting several ways you can access more local food throughout the week.
All of this production has a big impact on our economy and the availability of jobs—even for those who are not directly involved in food production. The Yellowstone County Extension office estimates that for 10 people working in production agriculture, an additional 14 jobs are created in other industries in Yellowstone County. The impact on Billings’ economy is probably even larger since Billings serves a wide range of other counties as well; I grew up on a ranch in Musselshell County, and my family did most of its shopping in Billings. Farmers and ranchers buy all of the same things as any other household, but they also buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of supplies for their businesses—equipment, seed, fertilizer, etc.—leading to dozens of businesses in Billings that exist solely to supply farms and ranches, and those businesses in turn employ hundreds of people who can then shop at other local businesses. Throughout this week, we will be highlighting some of those local businesses, many of which have products or services that may interest you as well.Finally, farming and ranching is essential to our understanding of who we are today. The first people to settle in Montana obviously were the Native Americans, followed by miners, followed in turn by cattle ranchers; each of these groups have left a deep and irreplaceable stamp on Montana’s culture. Locally, agriculture literally transformed the landscape through efforts like the Huntley Irrigation Project. Our image as a state in the eyes of the rest of the world is forever linked to the cowboy, a phenomenon embodied in books and films like Lonesome Dove. Those of us who appreciate where Billings is now—and where it’s going—must also appreciate how it got here. Agriculture is as much a part of that story as the railroad.
The fact that we don’t have to think about where our food comes from is a blessing of modernity, but every once in a while we should all step back to appreciate the things in life we normally take for granted. For the role it plays in our history, our economy, and our everyday lives, take a moment this week to celebrate agriculture. Watch your inbox, because we have a lot more coming your way.