Editor’s Note:

It is not the policy of Northern Ag Network to publish unsigned Opinion Editorials.  However, the issue discussed below is both important and sensitive; a case of friends and good neighbors in serious disagreement, but who want to be able to talk about a difficult issue, and still remain friends.  In order to encourage an inclusive conversation that allows frank and respectful discussion on a deeper level, we have decided to print the unsigned Op Ed below, in the hope of increasing knowledge and transparency, and perhaps facilitating possible solutions.

-Northern Ag Network

The recent article and study released by the University of Montana and Montana State University on the economic effects of Hutterite colonies in Montana has created great concern.  This concern does not stem from any of the data presented in the article, but from the data that seems to be missing or left out. More specifically, the direct and secondary effects to both the local communities that the colonies exist in, and the state economy as a whole.

The Hutterite colonies have become the number one competitor of the family farm in rural Montana.  The article in question states “They (the Hutterites) implement cutting-edge technologies to help promote efficiency and reduce labor requirements in the operations, allowing them to venture into under-developed markets in the state”. Though this may be true in some cases, we (family farmers) would argue that because of an unfair tax and labor advantage, the Hutterites are able to pay above market for land, and as such, drive the local family farms out of the marketplace and ultimately out of business.

Operating as a religious non-profit entity, Hutterites access tax benefits that other family and individually owned farms cannot.  Though the Hutterite colonies do pay property tax (as all land-owning farmers do) and income tax at the corporate level, they do not pay income tax as individuals.  This is because the individual members of the colony are not paid a living wage.  Since the individuals are not paid a living wage, members of a colonies qualify for Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The colonies skirting individual income taxes to turn around and double dip on Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit is very concerning.

The Hutterites do not send their children to the local public schools, yet take advantage of many of the publicly funded school programs and in some cases even operate as their own taxpayer funded “private” schools, only allowing the children to be educated through the 8th grade.

The colonies have become non-profit entities that are paying above market prices for farm land.  Anytime a non-profit entity becomes more profitable than for-profit entities in the same marketplace it is cause for concern.  To reiterate this point, anytime an entity forms as a non-profit to manipulate labor and tax laws to out compete for-profit entities, it should be cause for further investigation.

What would the economic impact be if the Hutterite colonies were replaced by personal income tax paying, K-12 public school attending, local business supporting individual farmers and ranchers?  This is the issue we take with this new study, and we look to the colleges to continue their research and answer that question.

Let it be clear, we have no issue with the Hutterite lifestyle, religion, or the individual members themselves, it is solely an issue with the business structure under which they operate. The family farm is only asking that we all play by the same rules.


Signed: the Diminishing Young Family Farmers of Montana


60 thoughts on “OPINION: Montana Farmers Express Concern with Hutterite Study

    • Its not all true. The author of this obviously bias. His / her intentions are obviously not to deliver facts but to stir up negative feelings with false accusations.

    • What you all are concerned with is not even the most important thing that is just blaring in front of your faces. Most of what I see is jealousy. That’s how socialism communism starts. The real problem in all this is being taxed to death all over the place. That is the problem. Nothing is stopping the family farm from being a religious non-profit. But you know what else you can do? Vote intelligently and be educated. Free isn’t Free so stop voting for Free stuff or handouts and then you won’t be taxed into oblivion.

  1. I used to border the colony. And as to what I just read does clarify my curiosity as to their medical advantage because of their religion. I agree we should all be treated equally.

    • The tax issue is even worse than stated. My local colony members receive a tax refunds for each member who’s return is deposited into an account and then the colony takes the money. This is a individual’s return even though they are a multi million dollar corporation.
      When a colony builds a 3 to 4 million dollar pig or chicken barn it is usually paid for in 5 or 6 years. This is due to no labor cost and skirting the tax system.

      There school is a public school that is funded by the county and state yet most are only a harmful of miles from an existing public school. These schools are built and paid for by the taxpayers. The children are feed through the state since they all claim low income. As is all there medical and dental.
      I don’t have anything against the Colonies or their lifestyles but they shouldnt be a drain on the state and taxpayers. They should be self sufficient just like the rest of us.

      • I would question some of your “facts”. As far as I know Hutterite colonies are not Non-Profits. Members do pay individual income tax although if you split what you see as a large income among 100 members it ends up being quite small per individual often almost at poverty income levels.
        The same goes for their land base and livestock operations. When split to a per member basis their farms often end up being allot less then the average family farm.
        I note your concern about family farms and would ask” who has a more successful model of a family farm then your local Hutterite neighbors?” I would contest that they are the ultimate family farm in every sense of the word.
        We need to realize that in our concern and effort to advocate for the farming community it does no good pick at trivial differences when there are way bigger threats to the agricultural community then our fellow farmers.

      • Seems like somebody is getting Opinions mixed up with Facts. Hutterite’s pay for their own School Building. All of these buildings are taxed and it all goes to local county. Even tough they are part of city school money generated from property tax etc helps all schools. Money left over that is not use at colony helps out all City Schools who are together with Colony schools. Just ask your local School before you get your OPINION mixed up with FACTS. Check out Property Taxes paid by Colonies per Acre owned . We all have our Opinions its facts that count.

        • It would be easy to solve by not giving any religious organization preferential tax rates. In regards to members getting EIC and similar benefits, I would ask if non-hutterites could live on the dollar amount that those in the colonies receive. Poor is poor, no matter the religion or organization you belong too. If one is poor as they work for low wages for a church, a business or whatever, they are poor. If one says they are poor but then the church, business etc gives them a big house etc for free, they are not poor.

    • Medical advantage is because the individuals are not paid. They are given food and lodging and only very minimal cash wages. It is not because they are a religion based. They are only taking advantage of what is out there- not breaking law. They do pay property tax on all colony property except the church building.

  2. I am a local Hutterite, and while I won’t get into a long discussion about the article, I want to address a major concern regarding the truth, or lack thereof, to atleast one of the points made. We are not a religious non profit. We have never been a non profit. Up until the 1970s ish we had tax exemptions because of our religious status. Fortunately for all involved, that status was revoked by legislation. And rightfully so. So if everyone could at least take that into consideration. My point being, because we are not non profit, we are subject to any and all tax codes.

  3. Hutterites keep their labor(other Hutterites) sometimes children under the working age we are allowed to employee kids at, under the poverty line. This keeps them from having to pay income tax, and also all qualify for Medicaid. They offer “free room and board” in exchange for their labor, not minimum wage. What a way to live. Before the last legislative session Hutterites (the mother ship in Canada) paid for their state portion of Medicaid expense but now MONTANA does not let foreign aid come into the country to reimburse for that expense it falls on the shoulders of everyday tax payers. They are a religious organization and do take advantage of all the tax laws associated with that entity. I’m not sure on the non for profit. Seems like they have plenty of money. Millions of dollars they move around between MONTANA and Canada.

  4. 1. Accusing Hutterites of being "competitors to the family farm" makes no sense because the Hutterites are 100% a family farm themselves. Family farms have always competed with other family farms, some are successful, some go bankrupt, and most just manage to make ends meet.
    2. It’s been pointed out that Hutterite Colony’s are NOT non-profit organizations. There is nothing that prevents any "family farm" from incorporating and being taxed at the exact same rate as the Hutterite Colony’s are. If you incorporate and pay yourself, sons, daughters a minimum wage and give them room and board then y’all will probably qualify for the same medical and tax treatment (benefits) that the Hutterites qualify for. The Hutterites didn’t make the rules, they just play by them… wise up and play by the rules yourself.
    3. Hutterites are not paying "above market rate" for land. They are tough negotiators and they pay what they can afford to pay, nothing more. They get mortgages the same as anyone does and make payments to the same banks as anyone else does. They are able to buy because they pool their money from the effort of multiple families to buy property. Anyone who wants to set up a corporation, where multiple families contribute, can do the same thing.
    In conclusion… It is my opinion that the author of this anonymous letter is more than a little but bigoted towards Hutterites… if not, then print your name. I’m happy to print mine… what are you hiding from?

    • Colony elders showed up at my stepfather’s farm with a cool million bucks in a briefcase to buy his farm ground. None of the neighbors could come up with that kind of cash; they couldn’t compete. Obviously that suitcase full of cash didn’t come from a bank loan. They do pay above market prices for land.

    • M. LaTray, Thank-You for pointing out these facts. Something else to consider and no offense to anyone: I have been to many Hutterite communities and I have yet to see an RV, fancy boat, or any of these "wants". Most Hutterites do not mix up want with need. Also, most people, including myself, own more than one vehicle. Hutterites usually have around six to eight vehicles for 20 to 30 families. This saves them a LOT of money. I can also tell you that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. There are quite a few Hutterite colonies that are struggling financially and how can you fault their other communities for helping out their less fortunate members? Maybe we can all learn from this principle and put the hate and greed aside.

  5. This is NOT an article. It is a letter and it has half truths which are misleading. Example: there are thousands of ‘small family farms’ on the high line, who own as a 4 to 6 member family, AS MUCH AND MORE LAND AS A HUTTERITE COLONY with 90 to 100 dependents. AND they file exactly the same claims and tax credits as hutterites. No individual income. You do the math.

  6. This tax issue and dispute could easily be settled by having in independent CPA review the tax returns of the Hutterite entity, whether it is operating as a corporation or in some other form. That entity should have it’s officers on file with the state, along with it’s Articles of Incorporation and it ownership. Those owners should be filing individual tax returns. Have those returns examined. Examine the payments to children and other labor, as well as whether they are claiming poverty status in order to get government benefits.

    Just posting opinions without specific facts has no benefit.

    • That review has done many times the latest being the Montana State University. The results are hard to except for those that have a bigoted narrative that they have to push

  7. Sometimes posting an opinion without facts is what leads to the facts being found and brought forth. Calling someone a bigot because they would like to stay anonymous will only stop the conversation.
    The FLDS Church also operates many farms and enterprises and is always being investigated for something.

  8. The colonies are paying above market for places. They are paying 3,000+ dollars an acre for irrigated land on some areas which is way above market. They basically have control over one irrigation company in particular because they have become their largest client. Also, the employees of the colony are not getting paid min. wage, they have room and board and such a small amount of cash it is ridiculous. This results in cheap labor. Also outside of eggs, chickens and pigs, all those other jobs created would be there regardless because that land would still be owned and farmed. Not to mention the fact that a large majority of feed is getting bought out of canada not locally, I have seen enough masterfeed trucks pickups running around. I would look at Fairfield as an example as a place where irrigation acres are limited and how a small community is thriving without too many colonies around. I have nothing against the individuals themselves because I find most of them friendly, just the overall structure.

  9. I don’t think it is fair that they live in this country & don’t fight for the freedom & protection they enjoy
    I won’t do business with them

  10. Hutterites are hard working men and women. The effects or so-called strain they put on the Montana economy is a drop in the bucket compared to the lazy no-working able-bodied leeches who sponge off our state and government. Great Falls is a welfare city. Let’s start there before you start talking bad about hard-working people who shop and contribute to Montana in every way.

  11. In the last ten years Hutterite colonies are the only ones able to be able to afford buying land. Land prices go up because of this, and no one is able to afford to purchase land. Lease prices go up because land is valued at more than it is really worth. Grain market prices are lower thatn where any average farmer can make a profit. A lot of farmers can’t afford to update new machinery cause they don’t have land to make it profitable. Without being able to afford land, employees, and new machinery to take on new land. The local small town farmers will be completely gone in 50 years if this path keeps going. All small towns will be ghost towns. No class C schools, no bars, no restaurants, no small communities. Class C schools have taken a huge drop in the last ten years do to Hutterite Colonies expanding. Schools co-op with another town to keep a float. This takes away from jobs in our communities. Small town community jobs and business owners support the community. If this path keeps taking place then Hutterites will be the only ones able to afford to farm or ranch the land. Then all of farming and ranching will be in their hands. The ones that sell to them will be happy because they are wealthy. Wealthy due to over market land prices. Every acre of land that we sell to the Hutterites for above market price to sweeten your pocket, is an acre that was formerly saving farmers from extinction. With farmers going extinct then schools. business, and small communities go extinct. Some how we have to find a away to stop this from happening.

  12. One more anonymous comment, I live next to a colony. Hutterites do NOT pay mortgages rates to banks like individual farmers. The hutterite system is 0 (zero) interest loans from other established colonies. And when a new or expending colony does not perform financially, the lending colony will start supervising to protect its investment

    • anon: I bet Farm Credit Services could tell you a different story.
      I appreciate all the concerns that farmers have about being able to expand their operation but let’s also take into account the other factors that often times make it impossible. For starters, the price of machinery these days. Also, how about all the property that is being bought by individuals and investment firms from out of state that pay, at times, 10X the value and then totally take it out of production. Last check one individual owned more property than all the Hutterites combined.

        • Chris Prue, Please put your animosity towards Hutterites aside for long enough to read this. When Hutterites purchase property to start a new colony they might buy 2-3 individual farms, sometimes less, hardly ever more. These 2-3 farmers might have had 4-8 smaller buildings on those properties. Now this new colony builds 12-16 much larger buildings on this same property thus increasing the local taxes paid big time. Also, the vast majority of building materials are purchased locally. How can this NOT be supporting the local economy?? Also, how about all the necessities that colony now purchases to support the 70-150 persons living on that colony? At the very least they are stewards of the land and not interested in turning it into wilderness.

          • OK Pete, Lets get one thing strait, I have no problem with the hutterite people. As a matter of fact I have a lot of I would call good friends in the colony and that is how I hear about the information I am about to post. ITS NOT HEAR SAY. As far as supporting local community , all I’m going to say is NOT TRUE. Two of the colonys around here just put up chicken barns and most of the material was purchased from Canada and other items out of state. One of the guys said they got trusses from another colony in South Dakota. NONE of the materials were purchased in my local home town. To bad for the local hardware store and lumber yard. The local grocery stores are taking it in the shorts. The colony’s by in bulk semi loads. I was there one day watching them unload pallets of candy bares and one of the hutterites said other colonys will come and buy from them. A colony up north buys pallets of flour from Canada. Nothing wrong with that right. Who cares about the community stores, let them die. I work in a service department and trust me, every time a small farmer sells to colony I loose business. Nothing wrong with that either. Maybe the dealerships will consolidate some day and there will be one in the middle of the state. I don’t want to move down to the middle of the state to work. Talking about property taxes go to http://svc.mt.gov/msl/mtcadastral and look at building values under Appraisals for colony’s, then look at 3-4 small farms. There is not much different s and in some cases 3-4 small farms pays more in property taxes, so don’t try and fill me full of that nonsense.

  13. That study is did definitely did not show all economic impacts of a hutterite colony. It did not show the drain on the local tax base, it did not show the drain on government-funded programs, did not show the drain on local school systems it did not show the impact on local labor markets IE they trade a lot of employees out. Before somebody wants to question me on that I have work with Hutterites that have got traded for water or hay. It is definitely unfair business practices if you have a multimillion-dollar corporation or business and you pay little to none in individual taxes. Bottom line: that study was flawed and flawed greatly.

  14. Above market prices and not paying taxes? That is the DNRC buying lots of land. Popular because of the hunting opportunities? And do not forget the American Prairie Reserve.
    Hutterites take care of their land.

  15. In response to M Latray you say that we are all the same. Maybe you should do a little research before stating your response . why am I paying over $10,000 on health insurance to insure my family and if we have a child I’m putting another $6,000 out before my insurance takes over. And for any Dental or or vision visits we pay most out of pocket. On an average we are putting out 20 to 25,000 dollars per family per year. So take that and times it by 25 families per colony and that gives you $625,000 per year per colony and I would say that this is conservative.
    Now every member of a hutterite colony pays absolutely nothing for any kind of healthcare. I would say this is an unfair advantage would you not agree. Not only do we have to pay for our insurance we are paying taxes that supports all other welfare program insurances. This is just one argument that we have against colonies. I have nothing against hutterite colonies or the people that run them it is only their infrastructure.

  16. FWP is the real threat to the family farm with the current land purchase program fwp will own all the family farms and they will drive the hutterites out of business as well.

    fwp.mt.gov › News › News Releases › Headlines
    Feb 6, 2017 – Studies show that elk, deer and antelope hunters combined spent an estimated $324 million in Montana in 2016. That money supports more than 3,300 jobs. In 2016, resident hunters spent nearly 973,000 days pursuing deer, about 902,000 days hunting elk and about 51,000 days chasing antelope.

    How many family farms have the wilks brothers snarfed up?
    Any family farm can incorporate and opperate unted the same laws as the hutterites.

  17. I recently read about WW2 and how hitler destroyed the Jews. It started with boycotting, then eventually to working them to death, and gassing them and there families. When I read these articles I notice that same trend starting with hutterites, people are so jealous of there success they try to find more and more excuses on why they can’t keep up with them. If our leaders years ago hadn’t set up the constitution and this great country the way they did, then some people would do to hutterites exactly what hitler did to the Jews. Bottom line is they work harder and smarter then all you haters so just suck it up and respect them.

  18. You are correct. They do work hard and smart and so do I. The only difference is I pay my share of taxes they do not. Check out the posted links above. Those are the facts.

  19. All hutterites do is Work work work work work there like ants they work sunup to sundown they never go on a couple week Vacation. Or take any time off. I tell you what looking from to outside in I bet it’s a tough life. Those boys don’t have a easy life they are told what to do and they have to do it. You take over for example the hog operation, and you can’t turn a profit your done. To support 150 people with 8-10 thousand acres you better be able to manage that place or your goin down. On top of that build a new place every 30 years. If this entire country was hutterites the USA economy would generate triple the money it does now. I love how they are able to be so diversified with what they do. Montana wouldn’t generate any pork at all if it wasn’t for them, barely any eggs, fryers, turkeys etc. So let’s give credit where credit is due they work there BUTT off for what they got.
    As far as the tax questions if they wouldn’t pay there share of taxes then the government would get them but obviously that’s not the case. And as far Medicaid they generate so much money for the state they should get that no question. So all you hutterites keep up the good fight and don’t let anybody tear you down. I am a farmer as well and I will always support people that WORK as hard as you do.

  20. N.A.N. states: "and perhaps facilitating possible solutions."
    What solutions are pursued when this appears to be a jealousy post more than anything?
    Are the colonies within their legal rights? I believe they are.
    Are you using your legal rights to your fullest? Who knows but you.
    Have they created a team approach that has blessed them with the ability to advance? I believe they have.
    It is stated in the Opinion above: "the number one competitor of the family farm in rural Montana". What about subdivisions and land grabs? They seem to take more every year and who do they benefit? The investor and developer.
    There are many threats to the well being of Montana. If you want to change them, it means changing the legislation. The healthcare items need to be confronted across the state. Those who pursue self/group sufficiency don’t tend to abuse the health care system like many others who actually abuse the health care system on a near daily basis.
    If the family farms want to be stronger: They should unite, form co-ops or similar entities that allow them the ability to increase their own purchase power.
    "Don’t hate the player, Hate the game"

    • Please also share how many acres each Ted Turner, The Wilkes Brothers, LDS Church, The Nature Conservancy, Stan Kroenke, American Prairie Reserve, and Dan and Farris Wilks own.

      • We aren’t talking about those other groups in this article! We are talking about the so called Study done on the economic impact of Hutterites on MT. Quit trying to change the subject. The land Hutterites buy will NEVER come up for sale for future generations. There is no doubt that you pay less taxes and collect more government money than the self employed American Farmer!! We will keep working and paying our taxes at a loss, to support the Hutterites. You’re welcome.

        • The letter states the following:"The Hutterite colonies have become the number one competitor of the family farm in rural Montana". I beg to differ. How many thousands of acres have been bought up by some of these individuals and/or organizations and taken out of production. No more animals that are taxed and no money being spent locally to maintain those animals. Believe me I could go on for a mile here but what’s the point. Jealously and hatred blind people but I suppose one of the great things about living in this great Country is everybody is entitled to their own opinion.

  21. The conversations generated by this article need to be discussed and possibly debated in the legislature.
    Alberta has a law limiting colonies to forty miles apart. It might be useful to examine that law and what led to it’s passage.

  22. Where is the me too movement and other rights groups. Women are forced into traditional gender roles. If they don’t comply they are kicked out. Education is not encouraged. People are paid little or nothing. Kids are taught they go to hell if they leave the colony. Most punishments for bad actors are kept in the colony. Free will is completely killed. If I did that to my kids I would be put in jail.

    Once land is bought it will never be owned by an individual again. If they continue someday they will completely control the food. Anyone think they will voluntarily keep prices low when they have a monopoly.

  23. Why all the worry all of a sudden…..they’ve been around as long as any of us. I will continue to buy fruit and vegies and eggs from them

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