Gov. Brian Schweitzer, with a few staff members and his trusty border collie sidekick, Jag, made a few stops across the Hi-Line Wednesday to check on how business is going.
He first stopped to meet with tribal leaders on Fort Belknap, then went out to tour the Zortman Landusky mine to see how the Department of Environmental Quality cleanup systems are going.
His last business stop for the day was at the Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center near Fort Assinniboine to see some of the renovations they have recently completed, but mostly to learn about some of the research they’ve been pursuing and get the latest agricultural news from the research scientists working there.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been here, so I thought I’d better stop in, ” Schweitzer said. “Not only do they do research here, but they talk to a lot of farmers. ”
Schweitzer, himself the holder of an MSU soil science master’s degree, spent the majority of the visit talking shop with the center’s acting Superintendent and Assistant Professor Darrin Boss and Agronomy Research Associate Peggy Lamb.
Among his questions were several about the current status of Hi-Line crops, how they are looking to turn out and how they were affected by this year’s continuation of the new, unusually wet spring seasons.
The answers were mostly positive. If farmers got their seeds in the ground early enough and have suitable amounts of nitrogen left in their soil, they should have good yields, according to Boss and Lamb.
Boss and the governor talked about a farmer who had had a huge crop last year, due to all of the moisture the Hi-Line got last spring, but was surprised at the comparatively less growth he had seen this year. They said it was because the large yield last year had depleted the soil of the nitrogen content it needed to recreate that success.
The three also talked about experiments the station was doing.
One such project is testing crops not usually grown in this region. Lamb said they’d achieved varying levels of success with crops like lentils and soybeans.
With all of the attention that MSU-Northern has been receiving over the past few years for its biodiesel program, most recently from Sen. Max Baucus’ Freedom Fuels Bill, the governor was also interested in how their research into camelina, the most focused source for fuel, was progressing.
Lamb said that they had made great strides and were close to having it compatible with treatments and techniques already used for the more widely grown canola plant.
The governor wrapped up his tour with a visit to another part of the center where Boss told him about research in the feeding habits of individual penned cows, gathering a level of data digitally that was until recently almost impossible to gather.
At the end of his visit, Schweitzer was encouraged by the ag center’s work in their interactions with local farmers in what he said were the fundamental components of Montana’s economy.
“You probably can’t have anything that is more important for the economy of Montana than: How’s the wheat crop? How big’s the hay crop? And what do the cattle look like? ” Schweitzer said. “And so I’m asking those questions all the time. And there’s no place better on the Hi-Line than to come to this station, and they’ll tell what they’re seeing out there. And so far it looks pretty good. Another good year. ”