To celebrate National Montana Day on May 3, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting the innovative NIFA-funded research conducted by Montana State University (MSU).
Montana State University was founded as Montana State College in 1893, and the College of Agriculture was one of its primary mission-oriented elements, created to educate and serve the sons and daughters of the state. Since its founding and first class of eight students, the College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station have become the primary resources for agricultural research in the state and the premier Montana institution for students who seek to join the modern agricultural industry, with nearly 1,800 students today.
Notable Successes and Innovations
1900: New orchard of 125 varieties planted, including the Montana McIntosh apple, which became a national favorite.
1946: Plans for the Montana elevated milking stall are first published, leading to a new type of stall that is now a standard in American dairies.
2018: MSU is named Western Region host of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
2020: MSU-developed varieties accounted for 72% of Montana’s winter wheat acreage, 40% of spring wheat acreage and nearly 42% of barley acreage.
Ongoing: The college’s newly developed precision agriculture program is advancing cutting-edge research integrating technology into agriculture to maximize production, efficiency and conservation. This includes work on variety development, pest management, water conservation, feed and supplement practices and land management.
NIFA capacity funds partially supported MSU’s cereal variety development, which has approximately $2 billion of economic impact in Montana’s agricultural industry.
Ongoing research on water quality seeks to advance knowledge and quality of life in rural communities and on reservations across the state.
Projects examining forage, grazing practices and livestock health support Montana’s cattle and sheep industries.
Research into novel crops such as camelina and haskaps supports growers around the state and region, advancing knowledge for integrating new crops into production, examining crop rotation practices and studying economic viability.
Pollinator research supports Montana as one of the top-five honey producing state in the nation, building the knowledge necessary to support pollinator health and Montana beekeepers.
Unique Agricultural Challenges
The Northern Great Plains is a source of water for much of the western U.S., and Montana has an arid environment and a short growing season. Efforts to support resilient agriculture in this environment include investments in breeding adapted cereal, forage and pulse crop varieties; using weather to predict plant diseases as well as forage growth for animal feed; improving animal genetics and management; managing water quantity and quality issues impacting agriculture; reducing crop pests using integrated pest management; developing technological tools to improve efficiency of production; and understanding and managing livestock health.
Future efforts include an expansion into precision agriculture to meet economic, social and environmental goals for growers; continuing to provide adapted crops, forages and livestock for the state’s unique environment; supporting rural socioeconomics and the emerging agritourism industry; preventing transmission of diseases between livestock and wildlife; preserving water quality and quantity; supporting quality rangelands by controlling noxious weeds and providing nutrition research and recommendations to support a high quality livestock industry.
Our state needs locally relevant innovation in agriculture to keep Montana agriculture resilient, economically viable and globally competitive. We need to create an agricultural innovation ecosystem in the state and region, in partnership with industry sector, government and diverse groups of agriculture producers including tribal communities to conserve resources, pursue climate resilience, improve production efficiency and address workforce challenges.