Golden Triangle producer preparing to begin spring seeding

 By TERRI ADAMS, The Prairie Star

Megan Mattson runs her own dryland farm near Chester, Mont. She is following in the path set by her mother, Janice.  

CHESTER, Mont. – On a no-till dryland farm located in the heart of Montana’s Golden Triangle a golden-haired young wheat farmer is planting an impressive start to a golden career in production agriculture.

Born and raised on the family wheat farm, Megan Mattson, grew up surrounded by agriculture.

Her father, Carl Mattson, is currently on staff with Montana Grain Grower’s Association as a Conservative and Farm Programs Associate. Megan’s mother, Janice, will be the first woman to serve as the chairman of the U.S. Wheat Associates with the term beginning this July. Megan doesn’t pay much attention to their titles. They’re just Mom and Dad to her.

Megan grew up playing hide-and-seek among the farm’s grain bins with her older brother, Vince. She went to Chester High school where she was active in basketball, volleyball and track. After graduation, Megan took off for college. Working hard, she earned a bachelor’s degree in geography at Oregon State University with an emphasis in Global Information Systems, or GIS.

“I came home every summer during college to help on the farm,” said Megan. “One summer just ended up being three years.”

She doesn’t mind, however. One thing she learned as she studied the earth is she loved the land she was raised on. After she had been home a year, Megan formed a partnership with her mother and the two began to farm together.

“I grew up knowing how to do it, so it came naturally to me,” she said.

Besides the work, Megan loves her family.

“My brother is one of the main reasons I came home,” said Megan. “I grew up working with him and enjoyed it.”

Currently the farm consists of almost all winter wheat and just a little spring wheat.

“Only two summers ago it was the complete opposite,” said Megan. But a prolonged spell of hot, dry summers brought about the rapid shift to the solid-stem wheat winter wheat.

“In the past a lot of farmers north of Highway 2 stayed away from winter wheat due to the possibility of winter kill. Although winter wheat typically yields better than spring wheat, many years there is a premium price for the spring wheat,” she said.

She pointed out that one of the main reasons for the change is the climate they are working in.

“In our area, for the last four years, we have had very little rain after mid-June. Spring wheat needs moisture in late June and early July to produce a crop.”

They did not have much of a problem with wheat stem sawfly in their winter wheat.

“We decided we would rather take a bit lower yield using the solid stem varieties than deal with crop losses due to the pesky sawflies,” Megan explained.

The dry hot July weather has led them to make the shift from spring to winter wheat and they haven’t regretted it.

Megan also doesn’t regret becoming a female wheat grower.

“I enjoy being outside,” she said. “I’m not afraid to work hard and get dirty.”

Megan knows how to run all the equipment on the farm.

“I always had to do what my brother did and when he started driving the big equipment I made the mistake when I was younger of saying I thought it looked like fun. Now I drive all the time,” she laughed.

“I don’t maintain the equipment, but I can fix minor breakdowns,” she admits.

She even knows how to keep a lot of the equipment running, though she does let her brother and their full-time employee do most of the mechanical repairs.

“We all have different things we are really good at,” she said.

When she is not working the land, Megan can often be found in the office. Filled with her father’s model tractor collection and samples of the harvests from previous years, Megan trades a tractor seat for a computer chair.

There she uses her college degree to study the land and map the acreage.

Having just finished spreading fertilizer, Megan is anxious to start seeding.

“Vince says we’ll start on Monday but it will depend on the weather,” she said.

Many people have wondered what Megan does out on the farm.

“I have a lot of people who think I just live out here on the farm. They often ask me, so what do you actually do? The ones who know me know that I have a full-time job operating equipment during the crop season. They are respectful of it,” she said.

Megan attributes a lot of the respect and acceptance she has been given to the effort and example of her mother.

“I think my mom had to earn that respect as well. She’s a phenomenal leader and role model for females in the agriculture world. I grew up watching her outside working so it came natural for me to work outside. I didn’t think anything of it. I have a lot of girlfriends who didn’t see that growing up, so they’re not quite sure why I do it.”

Megan knows why she does it.

Whether it’s sharing 24-hour shifts with her family to get the work done, laughing over past memories or making new ones, she loves the land, the work and the family. Farming is one of the few industries that combine all of that.