Montana Legislature Considers Bill to Boost Exports of Ag Goods

by Colter Brown

As the Montana legislature nears the end of the 2021 session, numerous ag groups are stepping up to support House Bill 681 that creates an agricultural transportation enhancement account for port authorities. Sponsored by the chairman of the House Ag Committee, Rep. Josh Kassmier (R), HD 27, the bill proposes to appropriate $2 million to distribute grants to port authorities to enhance the transportation of agricultural products to and from the state.

The Montana Farm Bureau Federation says that HB 681 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 HB 681 could offer a 1:1 match to local funding to create the infrastructure needed for these kinds of shipping capabilities.

Nicole Rolf, the Governmental Affairs Director for Farm Bureau told Northern Ag Network that specifically this bill will provide a lot of benefit to the port at Shelby.

“There’s a lot of potential to get some international trade going, if we’re able to ship our products out of Montana,” Rolf says. “We’re very excited to be able to provide some more international market opportunities for Montana ag products.”

Montana Grain Growers Association President Mitch Konen, a farmer from Fairfield, testified in support of the bill in front of the House Ag committee. “As a state of great production of quality grain products, with the super majority of 80% or better of these crops actually being exported out of the state, it is in our best interest to increase the value of these crops in any way that we can, to ensure an added value for our hard-working producers,” Konen said.

“What better starting point to add value to our crops than with the premier transportation system that ensure quality and quantity of products for our end users,” Konen continued. “With these enhanced transportation systems, many doors will be opened to more international connections for all of our products and commodities. This will support all agriculture in our state.”

Montana Department of Agriculture Director Mike Foster also spoke very highly of the project in Shelby for an intermodal transportation project. “To me it has tremendous potential and could have a major impact in a very positive way for agriculture in general in Montana,” Foster said.

Foster explained, “If this model works, where our raw or processed products would go into a sealed container, that would then go straight onto a rail car, head to Seattle, and without being opened it would get on a ship and head to whatever destination around the world that it would go to. This would give us a big advantage in our efforts to be a major player in world trade.”

The key is that the facility preserves the integrity of Montana agricultural products because those containers are never opened until they reach their destination, providing a chance to grow the brand of Montana products overseas.

Foster said, “We really want to push on branding Montana agricultural products. It’s a big deal to us. The world needs to know that Montana has as good of agricultural products as exists on this planet.”

House Bill 681 was passed by the Montana House and transmitted to the Senate. It was amended and passed unanimously out of the Senate Ag Committee.

 

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Northern Ag Network/Montana Farm Bureau


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