The more things change...

Dear Editor, Ecclesiastes says that there is nothing new under the sun. “Surenuff,” we’re still having coal and cow problems 43 years later. Montana’s economy is going to take a terrible hit this year. The Colstrip Generating Station has been closed by Governor Bullock, and the calf income has dropped from $2.50 or so a pound down to $1.30 or so. Using the “Montana Agricultural Statistics” – State Series 1867-1991, there are 1,466,000 beef cows that have calved in Montana (1991). This is new wealth, created almost out of thin air by a cow, a bull and grass that grows where crops usually don’t. When the calves leave the ranches via sales, give them an average weight of 600 pounds. The money Montana lost on those calves, less what they brought last year, is $1.20. Therefore, $1.20 times 600 pounds is $720 less a calf compared to last year. With that kind of drop in the market and selling all the calves born, taking $720 times 1,466,000 Montana calves sold equals the money that did not come into Montana’s cattle economy. Montana’s calf income is $1,055,520,000 less than last year; lost, gone, never picked up, never taken to a bank, never spent on Main Street and no taxes paid. (Don’t even ask me about grain.) In the 1980s when this same thing happened to our markets, America lost one-third of the food producers of our nation. This may be the decade where Montana becomes the international government park -- that is if China doesn’t foreclose first. I still believe that Montana has been used as the collateral for the money borrowed from China. If you have a yen to pray, now is as good a time as any. (Don’t forget to read Burton B. Brewster’s article on “Coal and Cows.” Bobbie Cox Forest Grove, Mont. Editor’s note: The letter below first ran in the News-Argus on Dec. 23, 1973. The author of the letter above requested we re-run this, as it provides the basis for her letter. Coal and cows Dear Editor, I happen to be one of many ranchers who believe we can live with controlled strip mining of coal and run cattle at the same time. To fortify this belief, here are a few facts. The average native rangeland in southeastern Montana requires three acres to run one cow one month. So it takes 36 acres to run one cow one year. An acre-foot of coal weighs 1,750 pounds. A 20-foot seam of coal under one acre weighs 35,000 pounds. The 36 acres to run a cow will produce 1,260,000 tons of coal. At 20 cents a ton royalty, this area large enough to run one cow will produce $252,000 to the owner of the coal. In addition, this one cow will benefit the taxpayers of Rosebud County by over $100,000 and the State of Montana coffers by $428,400. If I decide to sacrifice this one cow, that quarter of a million dollars will go a long way toward making a better home for the rest of my cows. But I do not have to sacrifice that cow. I can turn her on another 36 acres, reseed it, fertilize it and irrigate it and that cow will have company. This quarter of a million dollars that this one cow would generate would go a long ways toward furnishing better bulls, fertilizing, weed control, leveling, irrigating, better corrals, better fencing and many other things a rancher always needs but has not been able to afford. Beside all of these essentials, it would improve the environment. I think the efforts of the reasonable environmentalists have been good. I am convinced that these efforts will result in well-controlled coal mining operations. I think the environment is as important to me as it is to anyone. My father picked this site in 1882 and I have lived here 71 years. With the money generated from this 10 percent of mined land, I am sure my grandchildren can make a better ranch of this than I have known. Burton B. Brewster Quarter Circle U Ranch Birney, Mont.

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