Havre Daily News
Logan Fisher is a fourth-generation farmer and “might be the last,” he told a group of about 35 agriculture, labor, tribal and commerce officials.
The 26-year-old Joplin man said that trends over the last 20 years of declining revenues and increased cost of production, farming is getting more difficult.
“We can't afford to keep farming if we can't get money for our products. It's hard in these depressed communities with depressed economies,” Fisher said.
“It's true and that's exactly what we are working on with the WIRED grant,” Montana Agriculture Director and Havre native Nancy Peterson said.
The state and federal officials were in Havre as a part of the kick off of the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development initiative, which is a $15 federal million grant set up to aid in the creation of a biolubricant and bioproduct industry in eastern and central Montana.
Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said it is a challenge to convince young people to major in agriculture and diesel mechanics but last fall 33 companies tried to woo the university's graduates to work for them.
“We need to convince the youth to stay in Montana. Montana kids want to move back to Montana and we need to give them an economy to come back to,” he said to the group.
Fisher is looking at starting a biodiesel facility.
“The WIRED grant will be big for that industry. If everyone had the capital companies like Mobil have, which we have to compete with, we wouldn't need the help,” he said after the group toured MSU-N's Applied Technology Center, which has machines that can be used to test bio-based products. The tour of the facility demonstrated the role of the university in assisting private companies with their research and showcased the mechanisms used to train individuals for employment opportunities in the bio-based job market.
“We can make every town self-sufficient in needs of fuel. It goes back to the days when farmers grew as much wheat as they needed for the year, we can do the same with crops turned into fuel,” Fisher said.
The officials toured three places in the 32-county region covered by the WIRED initiative that are already working to create a viable bio-based industry for central and eastern Montana. The site tours were conducted at MSU-N, Malta's Peaks and Prairies and Culbertson's Sustainable Systems.
Adam DeYong, WIRED grant assistant director, called the university's facility “awesome” and “incredible.”
“All the people from (Washington) D.C. were impressed. They said the facility looks like something you would see in Detroit, not the middle of Montana,” DeYong said after the tour.
WIRED grant project director and Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss said the tour of the university was a good way to showcase “the synergy between bio-based products and the opportunities at the Applied Technology Center.”
DeYong, who served as an economic development specialist in the governor's Office of Economic Development, said the grant will be beneficial to the Hi-Line because he is hoping to leverage the $15 million and create more revenue from investors.
Another plan for the grant is help to revitalize agriculture in the state with alternative crops. The grant funds also will be used for worker training and investing in equipment.
“We export most of our products - it needs to go back to the farmers. It won't help without the farmers having a stake in the process,” DeYong said.
He said the next step for WIRED is defining the proposal and then applications for projects will be accepted.
Keith Kelly, Montana Labor Commissioner, said he visited the campus in the 1980s when he served as state Agriculture Director.
“It's fascinating to come back 20 years later. They are visionaries and have carved out their niche,” Kelly said after the tour.