Montana breaks ground on new Combined Labs building

Montana Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab tests for zoonotic diseases, ensures quality, safety of animal products such as milk and eggs.

May 28, 2024

3 Min Read
MSU/Colter Peterson

At a ceremony attended by over 150 people on Friday, three Montana agencies broke ground on a new facility that will house three agricultural laboratories conducting research and analysis for Montana’s producers.

The Combined State Laboratories building, which will be located near Marsh Laboratory at the corner of South 19th Avenue and Lincoln Street in Bozeman, will house the Montana Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Analytical Lab and Montana State University’s Wool Lab. The university land for the facility was approved by the Montana University System’s Board of Regents and support for the project came from the Montana Legislature during its 2021 and 2023 sessions.

Speakers at the groundbreaking included Mike Honeycutt, executive officer for the Montana Department of Livestock; Christy Clark, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture; and Sreekala Bajwa, MSU’s vice president for agriculture, dean of the College of Agriculture and director of the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station; as well as Montana Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras.

“I can literally say this has been decades in the making,” said Honeycutt. “We know there’s lots of hard work that’s been done and many generations that have been involved. No accomplishment comes alone, and it takes lots of people both in front and behind the scenes to make a day like this possible.”

The Montana Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is an accredited facility that supports veterinarians, agricultural producers and wildlife managers by monitoring and testing for zoonotic diseases and ensuring the quality and safety of animal products such as milk and eggs. The Montana Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Analytical Lab tests feed and fertilizer samples to ensure correct labeling of ingredients and tests groundwater to prevent seepage of pesticides and fertilizers into Montana groundwater.

“My vision, as well as that of the department, is to have not only a state-of-the-art facility, but also a facility that has the confidence and support of every livestock owner and veterinarian in the state of Montana,” said Gene Curry, chair of Montana’s Board of Livestock. “I want to encourage every producer in our state to use this facility. I ask you to continue to support this lab and make it the envy of the West.”

MSU’s Wool Lab, which has been housed on the MSU campus since 1947, conducts analysis and research on wool fiber and sheep genetics to ensure that Montana wool producers can remain competitive and to maximize wool quality.

“Wool is Montana’s highest value agricultural commodity by weight,” said Bajwa. “The MSU Wool Lab is one of the only two university-associated wool labs left in the nation. Our lab tests around 15,000 wool samples each year from around Montana and beyond, and this new facility is set to grow that capacity significantly so we can meet demand and provide Montana wool producers with the fastest and most accurate service for their operations.”

Construction at the building’s site has already begun, and the facility is slated to open in 2026. The project was designed by LPW Architecture, which is based in Great Falls, and the project’s contractor is Billings-based Swank Enterprises.

Greg Wichman, an agricultural producer from central Montana and a member of the MAES advisory council, credited and thanked the generations of students who have pursued research in the MSU Wool Lab, while John Helle, founder of Dillon-based Duckworth Wool, noted the importance of the facility’s scientists to supporting Montana’s agricultural industry.

“There’s a lot that we can do in wool science, and this is a great opportunity,” Helle said. “I’m really excited and honored to be here to [break ground] on something that’s going to be very, very important for the future of our sheep industry.”

Over many years of advocacy, planning and fundraising, speakers called the facility the result of extraordinary collaboration that will support agriculture in Montana and the region for years and generations to come.

“I want to recognize and acknowledge over a decade of hard work that preceded us,” said Lt. Gov. Juras. “This is a critical investment in our No. 1 industry. We were proud to be a part of it.”

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