Project Summary

During Montana’s 64th (2015) Legislative Session, the state legislature funded $4.7 million—the first large-scale research initiative of its kind. The funding is centered on two criteria for research applicability: to address a Montana problem; to create Montana jobs in existing economic sectors; or to help spur new companies in Montana. The MSU College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station applied and received $2.8 million in a proposal that plans to put into production the state’s fallow agricultural land, and pinpoint precision agriculture using laser optics. Project objectives include:

  • Improve income from lands previously fallowed.
  • Develop new, improved, or quality differentiated products or crops.
  • Develop on-farm precision agriculture tools and technologies.

Potential Economic Impact

In a year of research, built on multiple years of previous research, this project has focused on replacing 3.38 million acres of Montana land currently left fallow with pulse or cover crop mixes. Initial data analysis generated statewide indicates a projected increased gross income for rural Montana of $90 million if 25% of previously fallow land is cropped to cover crop mixes, $101 million if cropped to peas, and $253 million if cropped to lentils. Precision agriculture technologies have proven to increase profitability by 25–30%. Additionally, new optics-based technologies have been developed and demonstrated to identify herbicide-resistant weeds and reduce herbicide use by >30%. This project focuses on improving the economic and environmental sustainability of crop and livestock agriculture, Montana’s highest-grossing industry, by intensifying pulse and cover crop production on 4.6 million acres of Montana land traditionally left fallow. Information derived from this project will help give farmers confidence as they change cropping practices. All data will be used for professional economic analysis by MSU agricultural economics faculty. Additional objectives are to:

  • Optimize profit potentials for new and improved crops that fit localized needs statewide.
  • Develop new markets and offer opportunities for value-added processing. Data on pea protein content will support business plans for a pea protein fractionation plant in Montana. Durum wheat production, marketing, and processing will be supported by better durum varieties.
  • Develop new products, including optical sensor-based nozzles for the precision spraying of weeds, and increase the adoption of precision ag technologies by helping farmers access and process data to provide optimal prescriptions for variety selection, fertility, weed management, and re-plant decisions via an automated on-farm precision experimentation system.

Quarterly Reports