The world of agriculture is constantly changing and nobody knows the ins and outs of it more than Brad and Jamie Birch. The couple, who grew up in Conrad and Chester, respectively, explored options to better serve the Golden Triangle area. The result was a company that specializes in fertilizer and chemical retail products, crop consultation and soil sampling for producers through the region.
Family-owned and operated, MT Ag is still in its youth, but already has deep roots in Conrad.
“Being a locally-owned company really gives us a lot of flexibility and allows us to make our own decisions,” Brad said. “We help growers in the Golden Triangle and a lot of those farmers we have been working with, in one way or another, for over three generations. It is important for us to be there for them when they need us and to be in a situation that fits what they are looking for in our services and our expertise.”
MT Ag’s service territory stretches from Great Falls to the Canadian border and from Havre to Kalispell. The Birches chose to base themselves out of Conrad due to its central location and the ease of access for customers, with MT Ag’s offices and loading operations located just off of Interstate 15.
In addition to Brad and Jamie, MT Ag currently has five employees including Kent Habets, Jeremy Vermulm, Shaun Riphenburg, Jeff Jerome and Susan Hoffman. They have all worked with Brad and Jamie at some point in the past, which guaranteed a cohesive relationship from the start. With 30 years of agricultural experience from Brad, 20 years from Jamie and a plethora more from the rest of the crew, MT Ag believes they have the understanding and knowledge to accomplish any task asked of them.
“When Brad approached us, nobody missed a beat on it, we were all in with him,” Riphenburg said. “The fact that this is a family-owned business is huge and it really shows in the demeanor around here.”
As the group continues to work with one another and build the MT Ag brand, Brad believes that they will do nothing but grow closer together.
“Without this group there is no way that we could do what we do,” Brad said, “We really work together like a family. We know when it is time to work and when it is time to relax and they have all really helped to pull their weight to get us up and running.”
As with nearly everything in the COVID-19 world, there have been challenges for small-town businesses. One of the bigger obstacles MT Ag has encountered has included is the availability for parts and services, ranging from finding nuts and bolts to electrical services for their bins system. Despite those challenges, they have managed to get up and running with only minor setbacks.
“It means a lot to have been able to get this going in the middle of COVID and it really feels like a bit of a Cinderella story,” Jaime said. “There have been a lot of negatives in the world throughout the past year but this is a big positive and it is really great to be part of it.”
One of the things the Birches pride themselves on is being patrons of local businesses. Whether that be the local grocery store, the fuel stations, or the hotels, it means a lot to the couple to keep it local.
“The concrete is local, the gravel is local, and so many other things that we do are local,” Brad said. “When people support our business, it means a lot to us to show that same support for them and return the favor. It is great to keep business in Montana.”
That business is constantly evolving.
“The way we approach our day to day operations now is so different than it was 20 or even 10 years ago,” Brad said. “I can sit on my computer and talk to someone while they’re in the field spreading or actually change what that individual is doing without even being there.”
The technology that spans the inner workings of MT Ag’s bin system in Conrad is the first system of its kind in the United States. The mass of computers onsite allows the crew to remotely relay information crucial to the team’s operation throughout the facility.
“I can be in Great Falls and add a ticket to the system or unload a bin for a pickup,” Hoffman said. “A farmer can ask for a blend of fertilizer and we can load that from a computer or iPad from wherever we are at the time.”
For Brad, the leap in technology makes all the difference in how the team operates and the amount of business that MT Ag is able to accomplish in any given day.
“From where we were 20 years ago to where we are today it isn’t even close,” he said. “The more efficient that we are, the fewer people you need to be doing a bunch of different jobs. One person can run this entire plant and it means that I can multi-task all of the time.”
The changes in agriculture have affected all aspects of the trade as producers are able to output faster than ever before. Farming a tract of land that may have taken three or four weeks over 20 years ago can now be done in a matter of days.
“The equipment continues to get bigger and better,” Brad said. “A lot of these facilities, if you can’t move enough product fast enough it is so hard to keep up. We are really pleased to have the facilities that we do.”
With the latest technology at their fingertips and a well-rounded and experienced crew at their side, the future looks bright for Brad and Jamie Birch and MT Ag.