EMIGRANT - A shift of practices is underway on legacy Montana ranches as a new generation of producers are making a living in agriculture and testing what that means for the future of their land.
Pete and Meagan Lannan of Barney Creek Livestock are leading by example in the shift toward sustainable ranching.
"We work really hard using those cows to bring back ecosystems," Meagan Lannan said. "A lot of folks that move here don't want to own cows, so we develop a partnership: Cows get the grass, they get a thriving ecosystem, and we learn together how to manage the land and make good decisions for the future."
The Lannans are the winners of the 2022 Montana Leopold Conservation Award and on Thursday, July 6, 2023, hosted a group of fellow Montana producers for the annual Montana Range Tour, showing their methods of grazing cattle by continuously moving electric fencing and posts.
"One of the greatest reasons we're doing this is because we started where they did and it's just great to share that," Meagan Lannan said. "It's not as hard as you think. You just eat the elephant one bite at a time, you'll get there, and you'll just have great results."
Joining the tour, were the new recipients of the 2023 Leopold Conservation Award — Kurt and PJ Myllymaki of Stanford.
The Myllymakis have worked their ranch for 18 years. Kurt is the third generation of his family to do so, and they say eight years ago they made a shift to sustainability.
"We run a cow-calf operation in a diversified dryland farming operation," said Kurt Myllymaki. "We've been able to reduce fertilizer use, herbicide use, hay use on our cows by 80%. And so, not having all those expenses has made us more profitable."
The Montana Range Tour itself has shifted focus, says Stacey Barta, the state coordinator for the Rangelands Resource Program at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Barta says the Montana Range Tour was originally for legislators but now mostly attracts other ranchers who want to see different methods at work.
"I would say within the last five years we see more and more producers interested in changing up the way they do things to be more sustainable, to improve range land health and get more bang for their buck out of the ground they have," Barta said.
The range tour visited different sites focused on soil health recovery, targeted grazing, and increasing pollinator populations.