Below are several checklists designed to provide the steps necessary to get a farm, ranch, or food business started, including agencies to contact, regulations to check, etc. It includes a general business start up guide and additional steps for specific types of businesses. In addition, we encourage you to review the menu on the right for other resources on legal issues, financing opportunities, insurance, marketing, and more. Also, see our resources on farm organizations and business planning resources around the state for further assistance.
General Business Start-Up Steps
- Determine Your Business Structure. A list of organizational structures is online here. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney, accountant, and/or financial advisor to help determine which business structure is right for you. Montana State University Extension has a publication that explains the main characteristics of each organizational structure here.
- Reserve a Business Name. You can reserve a business name for up to 120 days while you prepare to file your organizational documents. You cannot transact business or conduct affairs with a name reservation.
- File Organizational Documents. Depending on the type of structure you have chosen, you will need to file the appropriate business forms with the Secretary of State’s office.
- Apply for Tax ID Numbers. The IRS requires federal tax identification numbers for partnerships, corporations, and businesses that hire employees. To obtain a federal tax ID number, call the IRS at 1-800-829-4933.
- Apply for Professional Licenses. Montana law requires licensing for some professions. To determine whether you need a business or occupational license, contact the MT Department of Labor and Industry at (406) 841-2300.
- Apply for Local Licenses. Every city and county has specific requirements for doing business within its jurisdiction. Call or visit your county courthouse or city office to learn more about the requirements in your area.
- Apply for Payroll-Related Accounts. You may be required to register with the state for unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, social security, Medicare, and/or state and federal income tax withholdings. For more info, see our guides to Payroll Management and Workers’ Compensation Insurance.
- File an Annual Report. Corporations and LLCs are required to file an Annual Report with the Secretary of State’s office. If you fail to file the Annual Report with the accompanying fee each year, your company can be involuntarily dissolved.
For All Agricultural Producers
- Certify your farm or ranch with the Farm Service Agency and provide them with updates on an annual basis. Even if you do not take advantage of their programs now, this will greatly improve your ability to use their programs in the future.
- Some growers might be subject to the food safety rules under the new Food Safety Modernization Act.
- If you intend to produce raw agricultural commodities (defined in section 17 here), your operation does not need a food safety license from the Department of Health and Human Services for the production or sale of those products. If you intend to sell a processed product, you may need a food safety license; see “Processing Food” below.
- Certain buyers may require additional on-farm safety certifications and procedures, such as GAP or HACCP
- A produce dealer license is required for anyone wholesaling produce or transporting produce from out of state to sell in Montana, or whose gross sales from their own, Montana-grown produce exceeds $25,000 annually. Produce dealer licenses are offered by the Montana Department of Agriculture. More information can be found here or contact Larry Krum at (406) 444-5419.
- Brands are recommended but not required. General information on branding can be found here and information on brand inspection can be found here.
- Milk producers, dairies, and creameries are currently regulated by the Department of Livestock. Contact the Milk and Egg Sanitarian in your district for more information.
- Contact the Milk and Egg Sanitarian in your district for more information.
- A permit is required when transporting sheep or bison.
- Permits might also be required for importing horses and poultry into Montana.
- Information on fish and fish product regulations can be found here.
- All apiaries must be registered based on their size.
- Information on becoming certified organic with the Department of Agriculture can be found here or contact Georgana Webster (406) 444-9466.
- A helpful guide to organic certification by Oregon Tilth can be found here.
- Information on licenses or registration requirements for other types of businesses such as nurseries, fertilizer dealers and products, feed dealers and products, seed dealers, commodity warehouses, and alfalfa leaf cutter bees can be found here.
- You may need certification if you plan on using pesticides. Training is required for restricted use pesticides.
- Processing food includes activities such as cooking, cutting, freezing, baking, mixing, assembling, and bottling. A complete list is found in table 2.
- Retail establishments sell food directly to the consumer, such as restaurants and grocery stores. Information on licensing retail food businesses can be found here.
- Wholesale establishments do not sell food directly to the consumer, for example establishments that sell to restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Information on licensing wholesale food businesses can be found here.
- If you plan to sell processed foods that are not potentially hazardous at a farmers market you are eligible for certain exemptions. More info can be found here or by contacting Melanie Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Cottage Food Program allows certain food items that are not potentially hazardous and sold directly to the consumer to be produced in a home kitchen. More information on Cottage Foods and the required license can be found here or contact Melanie Shaw at (406) 444-2823 or email@example.com.
- Product packaging (including canning food, immersing food in oil, or other food packaging that limits air flow) may need to be licensed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services Division of Food and Consumer Safety. Call (406) 444-5055 for more information.
- No food license is required for a licensed wholesale, cottage food, or vendor with a farmers market exemption to offer marketing samples direct to consumer.
- There are several types of meat processing licenses in Montana. Different licenses exist for facilities that slaughter, store, retail, or wholesale for in-state or intrastate sales. Information on meat and poultry processing and labeling can be found here.
- Livestock can be sold live direct-to-consumer and the consumer can pay to have the animal slaughtered and processed at a custom exempt processing facility. You as the meat producer are not required to carry a meat processing license in this case.
- Facilities that slaughter animals and/or process meat are broken into three main categories:
- Custom-exempt: These facilities can slaughter and process animals owned by the consumer. They can also have an on-site meat counter for retail sales provided they use state or federally inspected product for those retail sales.
- State-inspected: Can sell through retail or wholesale channels within the State of Montana.
- USDA-inspected: Can sell through retail or wholesale channels within Montana or outside of Montana.
- USDA, State, and Custom facilities are all licensed by the Montana Department of Livestock. Those facilities are also licensed by the appropriate county sanitarian if they sell retail.
- Facilities that store meat for retail (farmers’ markets, for example) or wholesale (sales to establishments that then resell the product) require a meat depot license, available from the Montana Department of Livestock.
- There are limited additional options for processing poultry in Montana. Contact the Montana Department of Livestock for more details.
- Meat inspection licensing can be complex. Anyone processing livestock is encouraged to contact Gary Hamel at (406) 444-5293 or firstname.lastname@example.org for specific information or to be directed to a regional office.
- Breweries, wineries, and distilleries are subject to licensing by the Montana Department of Revenue. More information can be found here.