Mining and agriculture lured settlers to Montana during the latter half of the 1800s, and agriculture remains the state’s number one industry. One out of every six Montana workers is employed in an agriculture-related field. Regional marketing centers such as Billings, Glasgow, Havre and Miles City grew up as railroad hubs where farmers could market their grain and cattle and come to purchase supplies.
Cattle and wheat remain Montana’s largest commodities, and together account for three-fourths of the state’s agricultural cash receipts. Livestock genetics from Montana’s well respected beef herds are sold to ranches as far away as Russia and Argentina, while as much as 80 percent of Montana’s high-quality grain for baking is sold from West Coast ports to buyers in Asia and the Middle East. Other historic commodities such as sugar beets, hay and malting barley remain important, and Montana’s farmers have expanded their harvests to include fresh cherries, honey, peas and lentils, as well as oilseed crops such as canola, flaxseed and safflower. Pulse crops such as lentils, dry peas and chickpeas have become increasingly important in dryland rotations, and have attracted new buyers to our state.
Montana ranks first in the nation in production of lentils and certified organic wheat, and ranks second or third (depending on the year) in spring wheat, durum wheat, barley, flaxseed and safflower. Montana also ranks within the top 10 states in production of honey, beef calves, winter wheat, alfalfa hay, garbanzo beans, sheep and lambs, wool and sugar beets.