Agriculture has been considered the foundation of Montana economy. Over the last few years, other sectors of the economy, especially tourism and business services, have become increasingly important to the Montana economy. While studies in other geographic regions explore on-farm activity and food processing, this study focuses on the contribution of on-farm activity.
This agricultural impact study utilizes data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture and the IMPLAN economic impact model to assess the impact of farmers and ranchers on the Montana economy. This study examines agricultural land use, finance (including revenues, expenses, and taxation), producer profiles, and agriculture production’s impact on jobs and gross state product.
Agricultural Land Use
The State of Montana with a population of 1.1 million people has 93 million acres
of land with 58 million acres (62%) used for agricultural production. The percentage
of land used for agricultural production varies from less than 3% in Mineral and Lincoln
to nearly 100% in Big Horn, Liberty, Treasure, and Sheridan counties (Map 1).
Map 1: Percentage of Land in Farms and Ranches
There were 27,048 farms with a mean farm size of 2,758 acres in 2017. Average farm size varied from less than 200 acres in Flathead, Mineral, and Ravalli and over 8,000 acres in Big Horn and Garfield counties. These farms had 48,161 agricultural producers (owners and managers) working on them.
The market value of agricultural products sold was $3.5 billion with crop-related sales totaling $1.6 billion and livestock-related sales totaling $1.9 billion. Other income included on the farm’s profit and loss statement was government payments ($0.3 billion) and other farm related income ($0.4 billion). After subtracting production expenses of $3.3 billion, net cash income was $0.9 billion in 2017.
The market value of crops and livestock varied between counties with sales exceeding $10 billion (Beaverhead, Cascade, Chouteau, Fergus, Gallatin, Glacier, Hill, Pondera, Richland, Teton, and Yellowstone) to counties with sales less than $10 million (Deer Lodge, Lincoln, Mineral, and Silver Bow). The average net profit percentage, as reported by the USDA, was 18 percent in 2017. The counties with the highest net profit percentage were Blaine, Carter, Liberty in 2017 (Map 2). Four counties (Silver Bow, Flathead, Lincoln, and Mineral) had negative net profits in 2017.
Map 2: Net Profit Percentage in 2017
Montana farmers and ranchers owned property with a taxable value of $157 million in
2017. The taxable value of agricultural property was less than 1% of all taxable
property in Montana. The share of taxable property held by farmers and ranchers varied
widely by county from less than 1% in Missoula, Flathead, Silver Bow, Mineral, Lincoln,
and Yellowstone counties to over 40% in Liberty, Daniels, McCone, Petroleum, and Garfield
counties (Map 3).
Map 3: Agricultural Share of the Taxable Value of All Property
Market Value of Crops and Livestock from 1997 to 2017
After adjusting for inflation, the market value of crops and livestock increased by
14% and 28%, respectively, from 1997 to 2017. The percentage change varied widely
by county from increases of 68% or more in Carter and Treasure counties to decreases
of 40% or more in counties with fewer farms and ranches, including Lincoln, Silver
Bow, and Mineral (Map 4). The market value of crops more than doubled in Treasure
and Beaverhead, but decreased by more than 40% in Deer Lodge, Mineral, and Lincoln.
The market value of livestock increased by more than 80% in McCone, Glacier, Carter,
and Judith Basin and decreased by more than 50% in Missoula, Silver Bow, and Mineral.
Map 4: Percentage Change in the Market Value of Crops and Livestock, 1997 to 2017
The share of market value for crops and livestock has remained relatively stable since
1997 with crop and livestock shares of 40% and 60%, respectively. Grain (winter wheat,
spring wheat, durum, and barley) comprised 31% of total market value, while cattle
comprised 56% of total market value in 2017 (Chart 1).
Chart 1: Crop and Livestock Shares of Market Value in Montana in 2017
Farm Size by Acres and Sales
Farm size remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2017 with 60% of farms with
less than 500 acres and 40% of farms with 500 acres or more (Map 5). Average farm
size decreased by 20% or more in Glacier, Judith Basin, and Beaverhead; but, increased
by 20% or more in Chouteau, Daniels, Liberty, Roosevelt, Deer Lodge, Big Horn, McCone,
and Sanders counties.
Map 5: Percentage Change in Average Farm Size by Acres from 2012 to 2017
The 2017 year was a challenging year with nearly three-fourths of Montana counties
realizing less total farm sales in 2017 than 2012. Average farm sales decreased by
nearly 14% statewide. Four counties (Prairie, Deer Lodge, Carbon, and Liberty) had
average farm sales increase by 25%, while three counties (Petroleum, Daniels, and
Mineral) had average farm sales decrease more than 40% (Map 6).
Map 6: Percentage Change in Average Farm Size by Sales from 2012 to 2017
Tillage and Land Use
In 2017, no till was used by 16%, reduced tillage was used by 8%, intensive tillage
was used by 10% and cover crops were used by 4% of farms (Map 7). More than 40% of
farms utilize no-till in Liberty, Chouteau, Toole, Hill, Pondera, and Sheridan counties.
More than 20% of farms in Treasure and Sheridan counties utilize other reduced tillage
methods. Cover crops are less widely used; although, more than 7% of farms used cover
crops in Treasure, Toole, and Jefferson counties.
Map 7: Percentage of farms using no-till in 2017
Deer Lodge, Meagher, Sanders, Daniels, Wheatland, Flathead, Jefferson, Ravalli, Lincoln,
Golden Valley, Missoula, Musselshell, and Granite had more than 40% of producers 65
and older. Judith Basin, Phillips, Carter, Hill, Fallon, Petroleum, Glacier, and
Rosebud had less than 30% of producers 65 and older. Thirty-two percent of producers
were 65 or older, 58% were males, and 36% listed farming as their primary occupation
Map 8: Percentage of Producers 65 Years of Age and Older
Top Crops by Number of Acres Harvested
Hay and winter, spring, and durum wheat account for 75% of harvested acreage (Chart 2). The remainder of harvested acres is planted in barley, pulses (lentils, dry edible peas, chickpeas, and other pulse crops) and other crops, including oilseeds (canola, flaxseed, mustard, and safflower), corn for grain and silage, sugar beets, potatoes, and other minor crops.
The top 5 producing counties in 2017 for each of the major crop categories was the following: hay - Fergus, Madison, Big Horn, Lake, and Judith Basin in 2017; winter wheat - Chouteau, Hill, Cascade, Teton, and Liberty; spring wheat - Chouteau, Hill, Valley, Toole, and Liberty counties; durum wheat - Sheridan, Daniels, Roosevelt, Pondera, and Hill counties; pulses – Sheridan, Hill, Chouteau, Roosevelt, and Toole counties; and, barley – Teton, Pondera, Chouteau, Toole, and Gallatin.
Chart 2: Share of Harvested Acres of Major Crops in 2017
Top Livestock by Percentage of Farms Raising Livestock
Montana is largely a grain and cattle state. Over 40% of farms had cattle (and calves),
5% had sheep (and lambs), and less than 2% had hogs (and pigs) in 2017 (Chart 3).
The top 5 livestock producing counties were Beaverhead, Custer, Fergus, Carter, and
Rosebud counties in 2017.
Chart 3: Percentage of Farms and Ranches with Livestock
IMPLAN Model Results
Agricultural production employed 52,629 workers or 10% of the state’s labor force
in 2017 (Map 3). According to IMPLAN’s economic impact model, 31,924 of the workers
were directly employed in production agriculture. An additional 15,597 workers were
employed in businesses supporting agricultural production, such as feed and fertilizer
dealers, and another 3,980 were employed in other related businesses, such as grocery
and drug stores. For every 10 jobs on farms and ranches, 6 additional jobs are generated
Direct and indirect employment in production agriculture was more than 60% of the
labor force in Liberty, Treasure, Judith Basin, Carter, Prairie, and Chouteau counties
(Map 9). In more urban counties (Missoula, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Yellowstone,
and Gallatin), direct and indirect employment in agricultural production was less
5% of the labor force.
Map 9: Agricultural Production’s Share of County’s Labor Force
Value Added Impacts
Farms and ranches generated $2.2 billion of valued-added, or 4.6% of the state’s total
gross domestic product of $47.6 billion in 2017. According to the IMPLAN estimate,
$1.1 billion was directly contributed by farmers and ranchers. An additional $820
million was generated by businesses supporting agricultural production and $236 million
was generated by other related businesses. Each dollar of value-added in agriculture
by a farmer or rancher contributed an additional $0.92 of value-added in other sectors
of the state’s economy.
Direct and indirect value-added in production agriculture was more than 50% of county
gross domestic product (GDP) in Prairie, Petroleum, Garfield and Carter counties (Map
10). In more urban counties (Missoula, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Cascade, Yellowstone,
and Gallatin), direct and indirect value-added in agricultural production was less
5% of county GDP.
Map 10: Agricultural Production’s Share of County’s GDP
Agricultural production varies substantially across Montana. Land use patterns varied from counties with minimal arable land to counties with over three-fourths of the land area used in crop or livestock agriculture. The Census Agriculture data showed minor changes in farm size (measured by acres and total sales) and profitability. The IMPLAN analysis utilized Census of Agriculture data to estimate the direct, indirect, and induced economic impacts of farms and ranches in Montana. This economic impact analysis showed the importance of recognizing the diversity in Montana agriculture. While this study has only considered direct sales of farms and ranches (behind the farmgate), the next iteration of this economic impact work will focus on food processing and other valued-added enterprises beyond the farmgate.
- 2017 Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Montana, State
and County Data, Volume 1, Geographic Area Series, part 26 https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Montana/mtv1.pdf
- Department of Revenue “Montana Taxes by County in 2014
- Department of Revenue “Montana Taxes by County in 2018
- St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank (2017). Current dollar gross domestic product by county
for Montana, retrieved from
- St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank (2020). Producer price index for all commodities, St.
Louis Federal Reserve Bank, retrieved from https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PPIACO
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017), Montana labor force, retrieved from https://bls.gov/lau/#cntyaa