What We Do
Western Agricultural Research Center (WARC), situated on 29 acres of irrigated farmland in the Bitterroot Valley in Western Montana, is one of seven MSU Agricultural Experiment Stations (MAES). The MAES mission, established in 1893 by state statute, is “to conduct and promote studies, scientific investigations and experiments relating to agriculture, natural resources and rural life, and to diffuse information thereby acquired among the people of Montana.” Each center focuses on regionally specific aspects of Montana agriculture, providing evidence-based and unbiased outreach and education to Montana producers.
WARC is the only center focused specifically on horticulture, specializing in high-value specialty crops, fruit and vegetable production, local food security and increasing sustainability and economic returns for small acreage operations. The station also conducts important research on row and forage crops, labor and labor efficiency, the complexity of the small business aspects of value-added products and start-to-finish operations.
Why high-value specialty crops?
Why high-value specialty crops? WARC fills a niche amid growing demand for high-value specialty crops, helping smaller acreage operations to become more profitable. High-value specialty crops provide unique opportunities through sales of not just fruits and vegetables themselves, but also locally and regionally produced value-added products. WARC also seeks out synergy with agritourism, encouraging producers to find ways to diversify their operations.
In the last decade, locally-produced, healthy foods have seen a sharp increase in demand, with fruits rising to the second most popular food item in the U.S. This rise is reflected with sales of U.S. organic products topping $62 billion in 2020. Valleys where high-value crops are prevalent (Yellowstone, Gallatin, Flathead and Bitterroot) have experienced an unprecedented boom in tourism as well as population growth, providing avenues for producers to access new consumers and create value on small acreages.