By HDN Staff
There was some extremely disturbing news circulating around Montana Monday the state's economic king is shrinking with age.
Agriculture is king in Montana, but the royal highness has seen its kingdom shrinking since 1964. Approximately 3.5 acres of agricultural land was "lost" during the past decade.
The disturbing part of the report is that state officials and agricultural industrial groups don't know where the acreage went. In these troubled times for Montana's hard-working farmers and ranchers, the shrinking ag land is not a funny situation.
The amount of land taken out of use for crops and livestock since 1990 would cover an area bigger than any county in the state, according to a recent Associated Press report.
Montana's land area totals 93 million acres, and as of 1998 farms and ranches accounted for 59.6 million acres. The state has been losing farmland since 1964, when the state had more acres dedicated to agriculture than any other year since the federal government began keeping track in 1930.
During the last 35 years, 10.2 million acres has disappeared from the agricultural land rolls. That's about 15,937 square miles, more land than the combined area of Missoula, Ravalli, Lake, Flathead and Lincoln counties.
Peggy Stringer of the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service said the disappearing land is a mystery.
Stringer said about 65.9 percent of agricultural land is range, 29.3 percent is cropland, and 3.3 percent is private woodlands. The remaining 1.5 percent of agriculture land is for other uses.
And it's not all disappearing into the federally funded Conservation Reserve Program. CRP, up to 25 percent of the acreage of some counties, is still counted as agriculture property. Federal land leased for cattle and sheep has never been counted as agriculture land in Montana.
Obviously, the statisticians miscalculated over the last 10 years with regards to the amount of housing subdivisions and ag land removed from production. Worse yet, maybe the government employees just didn't care about the loss of 3.5 million agriculture acres.
We've concluded that the missing agricultural land has been acquired by our Canadian neighbors to the north or maybe by our brethren to the east in the Dakotas.