Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

Christiane von Reichert

Commitee Members

Sarah J. Halvorson, Rebecca T. Richards


University of Montana


In Central Montana, grain elevators serve as the primary market for wheat. What began in the 1910’s as numerous small grain elevators scattered at short intervals along the railroad has now been condensed to a few very large grain elevators at central points in the region, increasing their efficiency and reducing their costs as they can load larger trains in less time with fewer employees. For farmers, this often means reduced competition among elevators that buy grain and an increase in the distance they must transport their grain. Existing literature addressing agricultural markets and transportation costs typically employs a quantitative perspective, such as von Thunen's land use theory or the supply area concept. This study uses a qualitative approach based on interviews and content analysis to add the perspective of local farmers. Thirty-five interviews were conducted with farmers and grain elevator operators patronizing the United Harvest elevator in Moccasin, Montana or the Peavey elevator in Moore, Montana. Analysis of these interviews explores how farmers evaluate the expansion of Moore's smaller grain elevator to a larger 110-shuttle facility and how this change in marketing infrastructure is expected to affect farm operations in the region. Three themes emerged from farmers' evaluations of changing market infrastructure: competition, risk, and market access. Competition, including its benefits to farmers, management and service, and strategies for small operators, refers to how farmers perceive elevator competition and its effect on the price the farmer receives. Risk includes trucking hazards, crop rotation and alternative crops, and local environmental conditions. Market access includes distance, time, site accessibility, and market availability. These themes inform the farmers’ calculation of costs. The balance of these costs with the market price drives marketing and crop decisions. Findings from this study support the use of the supply area concept when evaluating grain elevator placement and confirm its value when applied to-grain marketing systems at the regional level. Beyond this, it revealed considerations that are important at the local and individual level. Understanding farmers' decisions can help grain elevators take action to improve their own competitiveness as well as the farmers’ marketing options.



© Copyright 2009 Jessie June Reynolds