Lawmakers consider creating account to bolster port authorities in Montana
The deadline to transmit fiscal bills to the second chamber in the 2021 Montana Legislative Session arrived this week. We didn’t see a lot of floor action on some of our agriculture-specific bills in either chamber, as legislators were hard at work focused on handling the fiscal bills well. We did see progress on some important fiscal bills. House Bill 2: the General Appropriations Act has been passed through both chambers. This is the state’s budget that funds many of the programs and agencies important to us, and the completion of this bill often signals a race to the session’s finish line.
We were proud to support an amendment to House Bill 632: Implement receipt of and appropriate federal stimulus and COVID recovery funds put forward by the Montana Department of Agriculture. The Department dubbed their proposal the Montana Agriculture Resiliency Grant Program. It’s an extremely well-designed plan to address different, critical areas of production and provide opportunities for many types of farmers, ranchers and rural entrepreneurs. This program requests money from the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 federal funding.
The Montana Agriculture Resiliency Grant Program proposes three tiers for potential grant funding from the COVID-19 federal stimulus money. Tier A focuses on local food systems and providing opportunities to new and existing small businesses who want to add value to Montana’s high quality agriculture products and market them to consumers near and far. Tier B focuses on efforts to increase on-farm storage, a great value to existing farmers and ranchers who could use this funding to store products and ride the fluctuations of volatile commodity markets. Finally, Tier C offers funding for the types of major supply chain infrastructure that have the potential to bring jobs to rural communities and boost prices at the farm gate.
The beauty of the proposed Montana Agriculture Resiliency Grant program is that there is something in it for everyone: young and old, beginning and established farmers and ranchers, those seeking to get involved in agriculture or food production and distribution, and of course, consumers. Not only will this help us weather the storm of COVID, it will help us be successful well into the future.
House Bill 681: Create agricultural transportation enhancement account for port authorities, sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier (R), HD 27. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports.
This bill aims to establish the Agricultural Transportation Enhancement Account to benefit port authorities in Montana. The bill also proposes appropriating $2 million to distribute grants to port authorities to enhance the transportation of agricultural products to and from the state.
This has the potential to offer a big boost to our agricultural trading abilities in Montana. A port authority could allow, for example, the establishment of facilities that can handle intermodal units – those which can be used in two modes of freight – to ship containers by rail directly to barges, ready to be loaded for international destinations.
The fund proposed in this HB 681 could offer a 1:1 match to local funding to create the infrastructure needed for these kinds of shipping capabilities. Montana Farm Bureau supported this bill in the House Agriculture Committee, the House Appropriations Committee, through its approval on the House floor, and will testify on behalf of this bill in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee next.
In other legislative news, Montana Farm Bureau proudly sponsored the annual Agriculture Appreciation dinner this week with a number of other Montana agriculture organizations. This includes the Montana Farm Bureau, Montana Agricultural Business Association, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Water Resource Association, Montana Milk Producers, Montana Grain Growers, Montana Farmers Union, and the Montana Wool Growers Association. Some of these groups work together through the more formal Ag Coalition, and we all spend a lot of time in the same committee hearings throughout the session. We don’t always agree on every issue, and each organization represents its own membership as directed by those members, but when we can speak together, it packs a powerful punch in the legislature.
One thing each of these organizations always agrees on is how much we appreciate the work and dedication of our citizen legislature. Together, we hosted an appreciation dinner for the senators, representatives and staff of the House and Senate Ag Committees to say “thank you” for their service in the Legislature.
We’d invite you to take a moment in the weeks to come to drop your elected officials a note of gratitude for their time and dedication during this session. No matter where we end up in agreement or opposition on certain issues, it’s undeniable that these individuals make a great contribution to the future of our state through their willingness to learn, serve, and lead, and we appreciate them for that.
For more legislative updates and details on these issues, follow our Live with Your Lobbyist broadcast each Friday at noon on our Montana Farm Bureau Facebook Page.
–Montana Farm Bureau
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