Food & Ag Legislative Update: It’s Been an Action-Packed Session!

AERO has had the opportunity to work on some really important legislation this session that directly affects our members. We are making progress on protecting farmers in the event of GE crop contamination, supporting Farm to School and farmland protection, and assisting value-added food producers.

AERO is a founding member of Grow Montana, a statewide coalition that focuses on community economic development policies that create a sustainable and equitable Montana-based food system. We have been busy pursuing two legislative priorities: a resolution encouraging Farm to School in Montana and support for Montana’s network of  Food & Agricultural Development Centers. Both of these bills are still alive in this very late hour of the legislative session and will be decided on any day now.

Grow Montana has been working with other groups to follow up on our 2009 legislative accomplishment that funded the Food & Ag Development Centers because they help to establishment  the entrepreneurial support system necessary to actually build the food production, processing, and distribution infrastructure needed to localize Montana’s food system. Although the original 2011 bill to fund the centers (HB 207) died in committee, we have been pursuing opportunities to amend other legislation to include funding for the centers. We will know the final outcome of this strategy today or tomorrow. Thank you for all your calls and letters to legislators in support of the Food & Ag Development Centers, they really helped them understand why these centers are a value-add to Montana’s agricultural economies.

Grow Montana is also working on a resolution to support Farm to School in Montana. These programs are popping up across the state, and are activities in schools to serve local foods to students while educating them about healthy food choices and the values of local agriculture. Farm to School opens stable markets for Montana’s farmers, ranchers, and value-added food entrepreneurs, and can help combat childhood obesity and related diseases. The resolution designates one week per year to be Montana Farm to School week in order to promote these efforts by encouraging state and local agencies, schools, and citizen groups to hold events and create resources that support Farm to School.

The resolution has passed committee hearings in both chambers and is headed for a vote on the House Floor today, and we have been working with Representatives to ensure it passes.

Stay tuned for one last update regarding the final outcome of Grow Montana’s legislative efforts.

Separate from Grow Montana, AERO has been working on a bill to provide protection to farmers and ranchers in the event their crop is contaminated with genetic materials from unwanted sources. SB 218 would essentially establish procedures for sampling plants protected by patent or other intellectual property laws; allowing confidentiality and to require mediation of claims involving protected plants in Montana. This bill has passed committee hearings and floor votes in both chambers, and has been sent to the Governor for his signature. A special thank you goes to AERO members Kiki Hubbard, Bob Quinn, and Ole Norgaard for their leadership throughout this process.

AERO has also had the opportunity to work with Missoula County’s Community Food & Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) to help defeat HB 542, a bill that would have taken away the rights of  local communities to consider the impacts a new subdivision has on agriculture — including the permanent loss of agricultural land and the erosion of a community’s agricultural integrity. Although it just barely passed both chambers, hundreds of call and emails positioned us well for a veto, which the Governor did last week. Thank you AERO members for weighing in on this terrible bill, and thank you CFAC for all your work!



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