12,000 years ago, farming spread its roots in the lives of hunter-gatherers and changed humans lives forever. It has taken centuries at this point to develop the tools and equipment that is needed and utilized in modern farming. When we think of traditional Montana farming, often what comes to mind is a homesteader moving his way out west trying to create a life of his own for his family. He finds his ideal Montana farm for sale and begins to work the earth. With his horse and a crude plow, he begins to work the earth and plant what little seed he has. This is the start of his Montana farm and with dedication, patience, and trial and error, he may just continue to grow his farm. Nowadays individuals can once again live like the early farmers of the west. With more Montana farms for sale, the opportunities are available to become a Montana farmer, but without the right equipment, knowledge, and determination, success is nearly impossible.
Farmers live in an era of mass production where efficiency and productivity reign supreme. The focus is on maximizing yields from all crops to help feed the growing world around us. Montana farms are seeing this first hand. In order to meet the demands of the growing world, farmers must push the envelope by planting innovative products, purchasing top of the line equipment, and constantly gaining knowledge in order to thrive in this competitive market. This has pushed the Montana farms for sale market to a point where existing farms are trying to get bigger and smaller farms have to be savvy to survive.
Montana Farm owners take great pride in their property, and rightfully so. It is their livelihood. Early mornings and late nights are commonplace for Montana farmers as they work and tend to their land. As technology increases throughout the world, farming has become more efficient and productive. At the same time, smaller operations that cannot compete with large farms must find alternatives in order to make a living. Often times that means selling, and the number of Montana farms for sale continues to increase as technology advances. However, many farmers continue to devise new sources of revenue and plant new crops to remain in business. Farmers continue to see increasing returns on crops, while at the same time, devising new alternatives to increase crop yield. This has allowed savvy farmers to purchase other smaller Montana farms for sale to increase their acreage and efficiency.
Montana Farms: Crop Revenue
Montana farmers produce crops used in almost every aspect of our daily lives. They provide food for the United States and the world. In 2015, Montana farmers produced 377,030,000 bushels of wheat, which accounted for a staggering $1,877,634,000 in revenue for Montana farmers. Montana farmers also produced 44,720,000 bushels of Barley in 2015, which netted $258,570,000 of revenue for Montana farmers. Another important crop for Montana farmers was hay. Montana farms saw a revenue stream of $585,400,000 from hay producing farms. Between these three main crops, wheat, barley, and hay, Montana farmers saw a revenue stream of $2.7 billion.
Many Montana farms have started to produce Pulse crops. Pulse crops consist of peas, beans, and lentils. In the past 20-years, Montana has seen a 1000% expansion of pulse crops. Montana farmers have found that by producing pulse crops, their grain producing crops have an increased yield the next year. Farmers are starting to implement them into their field rotations because beans, peas, and lentils, return nitrogen back to the soil, increasing its fertility. They are also much more resistant to insects and diseases that affect crops such as wheat and barley. By incorporating pulse crops into their field rotation, farmers are able to prep fields for future wheat and barley seeding. The planting of peas, beans, and lentils reduces the amount of wheat and barley destroying insects and diseases, and returns nitrogen to the soil, allowing for increased productivity of future wheat and barley crops. Montana is currently #1 in the United States for Pulse crop production. Approximately 70% of these crops are exported to countries around the world. Montana is one of the agriculture powerhouses of the United States. With over 25,700 operations throughout the state and 59,700,000 farmable acres in 2015, agriculture in Montana will continue to grow. As agriculture grows, there will constantly be a need for Montana farmers to work the land, but through the technologic increases in planting, seeding, irrigation, and harvesting machinery, the numbers of farmers needed will decrease if not remain the same. We have seen this trend of farmers buying Montana farms for sale to increase their acreage. If they can do this without increasing equipment purchases they most likely become more profitable.
Montana Farms: Technologic Advancements
As humans developed better tools and new agriculture techniques, they developed and utilized crude plows that scratched the surface of the soil, but did not turn the soil. Turning the soil is critical in less-fertile areas because it brings the nutrient rich soil, deep in the earth, up to the surface where its fertility can be utilized. The early turnplow, also known as a moldboard plow, was the first successful plow in turning the soil. Early versions were manually operated but were soon adapted to be pulled by draft animals such as horses, mules, and oxen. Farmers would guide the plow and the draft team in order to create large swaths of farmable land. In 1837, John Deere revolutionized the agricultural industry by creating the first steel plow which soon replaced the brittle iron plows previously being used.
Since then, plows have continued to take different forms and accomplish different tasks. The most common, modern plow is a multiple reversible plow that has several moldboards attached to it. This allows for increased efficiency because more land can be turned in a single pass. This increase in productivity makes farming more practical and profitable which means less Montana farms for sale and farmers are able to make a living off of their crops.
Planting and Seeding
When agriculture first started off, the hardest and most time-consuming part of starting your crop was seeding. Done by hand and meticulous, seeding fields was the worst part of starting a crop. Now, with the advances in technology, seeding and planting fields has never been easier. Companies such as John Deere and Case IH use proprietary technology to ensure maximum yield from fields planted with their seeding and planting technologies. Their planting systems allow farmers to adjust the depth of seeding, row spacing, fertilizer placement, seed tube planting systems, and speed of delivery. All of these aspects provide Montana farmers with a more efficient way to plant their fields and know that every seed will count. This allows them a higher yield and if they are looking at marketing their Montana farms for sale it brings them a higher return. Planting and seeding systems will continue to develop and become more efficient which will provide farmers with increasing returns.
Once fields have been planted, irrigation is the next step to increase crop yields. Irrigation is the method of controlling water levels to agricultural crops and has been around for as long as humans have harvested crops. Through the years, many different techniques have been developed to irrigate fields effectively.
One irrigation technique is flood, or furrow, irrigation. Flood irrigation involves releasing water among the crops in order to provide the crops with the necessary water to grow effectively. This is by far the cheapest and least complicated form of irrigation but it does have its downsides. Flood irrigation is inefficient because of evaporation, transpiration, and runoff. In order to minimize these inefficiencies, Montana farmers may implement field leveling, surge flooding, or runoff capture and reuse techniques. Field leveling ensures that when a field is flooded, all areas are exposed to the same amount of water and that there are not inconsistencies in water distribution. Surge flooding is very similar to normal flood irrigation but water is released at controlled intervals to prevent unwanted runoff. Surge flooding helps utilize more water so that it is not wasted or unused. Runoff capture and reuse is a strategy that farms can implement by creating ponds where runoff tends to be trapped and then pumping the runoff water out of the ponds and redistributing it throughout the fields. This technique allows for better utilization of water by preventing evaporation and limiting runoff. Another form of irrigation is localized irrigation. Localized irrigation consists of a low pressure, piped network that provides water to individual plants or adjacent to them. A form of localized irrigation is drip irrigation. Pipes are either laid next to or buried underneath the soil and supply a low flow, drip, amount of water to plants nearby. The water efficiency of drip irrigation systems can be close to 80-90% if managed and operated correctly.
The final and most popular form of irrigation on Montana farms are irrigation utilizing sprinkler systems. Sprinkler irrigation systems have several variations, solid-set sprinklers, traveling sprinklers, and center-pivot irrigation systems. Solid-set sprinklers are fixed in place in predetermined areas within a field. The sprinklers are then fed water at high pressures and the sprinkler heads disperse the water in a full or partial circle. The benefit of solid-set irrigation is that less piping is needed in order to irrigate a field because the large sprinkler heads shoot the water a great distance. Traveling sprinklers are automated, self-moving systems that utilize a length of flexible tubing that is wound around a drum by using the energy from the water or a gas motor and pulls a sprinkler head across a field. Once the sprinkler reaches the drum, the system shuts off and the system can be redeployed in a new area. These traveling sprinklers are commonly known as waterreels and allow farmers to step away from their fields, which gives them more time to tend to other matters. Another extremely popular traveling sprinkler irrigation system is a wheel line system. This horizontal system irrigates fields by taking water fed from a flexible hose, and wheels itself across a field, with the help of a small, center mounted gasoline engine, until it is turned off by an operator. Wheel line systems require more labor than the other forms of irrigation because they must be moved after use, however, this system can have additional segments of line attached to it to accommodate any size field. Center-pivot irrigation systems are one of the growing forms of agriculture. They are automated traveling sprinkler systems that travel around a center pivot point. A motor moves a long line of steel segments that are supported by trusses and mounted on wheels around the field. From the steel pipes, sparklers hang down and spray water amongst crops. The sprinkler heads are placed approximately a foot above the crops to prevent excessive evaporation and to increase water utilization. Montana farms for sale that are irrigated will be able to have higher yields and thus bring more per acreage in a sale.
Harvesting crops may be the most labor intensive aspect of farming. It is when Montana farmers get to finally reap the rewards of their crops. The most common harvesting tool for grain crops is the Combine. Combines are the most valuable asset to Montana farmers because they have drastically reduced the amount of labor needed in the agriculture industry. Combines initially started out as horse-drawn machines that cut and collected grain. As technology increased, so did the design of combines. With the introduction of the steam engine, combines soon became self-propelled harvesters. After WWII, tractor-pulled combines became commonplace and grain yields began to increase. The current combine format and style was created in the mid-1900’s and increased grain yields yet again. It wasn’t until 1975 that the rotary combines were developed and used. Conventional rotary combines are what we see on farms know-a-days. Rotary combines combine the acts of reaping, threshing, and winnowing into a single process, which separates the usable grain from the chaff and stalk. The rotary head first cuts the crop in the process of reaping. After the crop has been cut, it goes on to the threshing stage where the grain is separated from the stalk. The grain goes through several processes in order to separate the grain and stalk. The grain is heavier than the stalk so it sinks and the stalk floats, making it easy to remove. Winnowing is the process of removing the chaff from the grain, which is done by running the grain over a series of conveyors and straw walkers to remove the unwanted material. The grain is then transported to the grain tank and the stalk and chaff are expelled out of the rear of the combine, back onto the field where it will be tilled back into the ground or collected and bailed for other agricultural uses. Technology continues to impact combines by making them more efficient and productive by capturing more grain. Grain yields continue to increase as onboard computer monitor threshing speeds and internal processes. As this technology continues to increase, farming will become more efficient and easier to do. The modern-day plowing, planting, seeding, irrigation and harvesting systems help to increase the productivity of crops for Montana farmers. As technology increases, these systems continue to become more complex, efficient and automated, the need for labor will decrease while the grain yield of crops increases. This could spell catastrophe for small farms and the number of small Montana farms for sale may continue to increase.
If you are looking at starting to market or buy Montana farms for sale, I would encourage a long-term plan to maximize your investment. This is not a decision to be taken lightly and many times having someone you can trust over several years can mean significant saving either through a sale or by or through minimizing taxes. So if Montana farms for sale is in your future, I encourage you to get in contact with me
Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He moved to Montana 6 years ago and still owns the 5T ranch in Texas. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. He and his wife, Kathy are involved in a number of business ventures. He also enjoys being a part time professor at MSU in the business school and mentoring students.