Havre Daily News
Working for a new farm bill that benefits Montana producers is the main concern for Hill County farmer Jon Stoner, newly elected president of the Montana Grain Growers Association.
“We have the (National Association of Wheat Growers) convention in February in which we'll be heavily debating our situation with the farm bill. That's going to be the beginning of our real effort,” he said in a recent interview. “We're going to develop a framework for the 2007 Farm Bill and a lot of our other conservation programs, research and transportation issues.”
The goals are to keep the wheat industry viable and “assure a homegrown food source that's safe,” Stoner said.
The MGGA also wants a farm bill that passes muster with the World Trade Organization by discouraging overproduction.
Stoner also wants to get more producers - of both cattle and grain - involved in the process.
“MGGA needs feedback from members and nonmembers alike,” Stoner said. “Producers need to be involved and take part in what's going on.”
One example of that was when the Montana Stock Growers Association and MGGA held a joint conference last month in Billings. About 1,500 people attended.
“It's a way to show unity within the agriculture groups. We were able to bring in our full congressional delegation,” he said. “I'm really excited for this coming year. We've got a lot of work to do.”
Keith Schott, MGGA past president who farms near Broadview, also said getting together with cattle producers was important.
“Our issues are very similar. Conservation issues, policies, trade are important to both of our organizations,” he said. “A lot of farmers are also cattlemen too.”
Stoner, who farms north of Havre, watched his grandfather, Ray Stoner, of Outlook grow wheat and raise cattle. That's what led the Plentywood native into farming.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandfather and I always enjoyed farming,” said Stoner, 45.
Stoner started farming after earning a bachelor's degree in farm and ranch management at Montana State University-Bozeman in 1983. He now lives on farmland that his father and grandfather purchased 23 years ago. He said he enjoys facing the obstacles that farming provides, and the freedom and safety that rural living provides for his family: wife, Claire; 8-year-old daughter Rainey; and 10-year-old son Jon Reece.
“I like seeing the crop come through,” he said. “It's fun to experiment with new crops and different kinds of plants and fertilizers.”
Stoner has been an MGGA member for 15 years. He started attending MarketManager workshops and MGGA functions, and became very interested in agriculture policies.
“Jon is very capable. He started off the same as I did, and he's very astute on the issues and very engaged, very intelligent,” Schott said. “He knows his job and he'll do a good job.”
Increasing the direct payments producers receive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of Stoner's primary goals.
Many Montana farmers have not benefitted from other USDA programs like loan deficiency payments and countercyclical payments because they're based on production and don't help when production is low, he said.
The direct payment is based on historical yields and is a guaranteed payment. “That amounts to bringing home more of the money that's been budgeted for wheat payments” by USDA, Stoner said.
Stoner said direct payments are World Trade Organization-friendly because they don't encourage overproduction of crops. Overproduction causes producers to make less money.
“WTO's mission is to make sure we have an adequate and sincere production in the United States. Eighty-five percent of Montana crops are exported to other countries. We need the WTO to have access to foreign markets,” he said.
“This farm bill is going to be a farm bill that a lot of different players are going to be involved with. There are budgetary issues, and this has to be a WTO-compliant farm bill,” he added.
An increased direct payment also has other benefits. It would offset higher fuel and fertilizer costs.
“Nitrogen fertilizer two years ago was $200 per ton. This year it was $400 per ton,” he said.
High rail rates are another concern for MGGA. Stoner said a third of a producer's costs will go toward transportation of grain.
“In Montana we're captive shippers and our rail rates have always been exhorbitantly high,” Stoner said. “We don't really have an alternative means to get our crops out of the state.”
One program Stoner is satisfied with is MGGA's online MarketManager at www.mgga.org, which has helped MGGA members market their wheat.
“Farmers become astute marketers because they know about pricing opportunities when they come along,” Stoner said.
MGGA is also looking at value-added projects, such as the ethanol plant proposed by Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. However, Stoner said MGGA can't be involved with the plant's board or planning.
“We really hope the tribe will be able to get that through. We're very supportive of it,” Stoner said. “We don't have any way to financially support something like that.”