By Brad Reynolds

I was 18 when I first drove a tractor. I was 24 when I sat in a combine. I was 27 when taught to ride a horse. Agriculture, like any subject, requires education—and it’s never too late to learn.

On July 12, 2018 (at the age of 29), I attended my very first Field Day, hosted by MSU’s Central Agricultural Research Center (CARC) at Moccasin. Field Days (for the uninitiated) are free annual events that take place throughout Montana, providing area producers, legislators, agribusiness representatives, and everyday Montanans an opportunity to learn about the people, places, and projects involved in MSU’s agricultural research.

Shortly after 9am, Field Day attendees loaded onto tractor-pulled wagons and set out into the field. We were shown seven experiments, which varied widely but fit the theme of “alternative crops and cropping systems.”

Wheat has always been king in Montana, but for many reasons, CARC researchers are exploring ways in which producers can successfully diversify. Field peas, for instance, can improve soil fertility and break pest cycles when incorporated into wheat rotations. Chickpeas, though a challenging crop for Montana growers, can be incredibly lucrative. (In fact, Montana surpassed Washington in 2017 to become the leading state for chickpea production.)

Another alternative crop discussed was hemp, which is not the same as marijuana. Hemp is a plant with many industrial applications and no value as a recreational drug. Due to the association with cannabis, however, it is closely regulated.

Suffice it to say, much was thrown at me over the course of the morning—the benefits of pulse crops on nitrogen in soil, the community structures of microorganisms in relationship to crop rotations, how producers might respond to an increase in anomalous weather events. I’m no farmer, so my understanding of these issues was limited (at best), but even a greenhorn could see that this research mattered to Montana.

Agriculture is easy to overlook when you live in an urban area. It’s easy to forget Montana’s farmers and ranchers when they don’t live next door. What can’t be ignored is agriculture’s impact on our state’s economy and its role in feeding our world. You don’t have to work in the industry to show Montana’s ag community support. Take the time to visit with farmers and ranchers. Attend a Field Day. Make an effort to learn. From rural Montana to the “big city,” agriculture affects us all.

2019 Field Days Schedule

Thursday, June 27
3:30pm at Northern Ag Research Center, Havre

Wednesday, July 10
8:30am at Central Ag Research Center, Moccasin

Tuesday, July 16
8:30am at Eastern Ag Research Center, Sidney

Thursday, July 18
11:30am at Northwestern Ag Research Center, Creston

Tuesday, July 23
8:00am at Post Agronomy Farm, Bozeman

Thursday, July 25
4:30pm at Western Ag Research Center, Corvallis