Idaho legislative session good to ag
BOISE — Idaho farm leaders believe the recently concluded 2014 legislative session was a good one for the state’s agricultural industry.
“Idaho agriculture did very well for the most part during the 2014 session,” said Rick Waitley, executive director of Food Producers of Idaho, which includes 40 of the state’s biggest farm groups.
Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones said Idaho farmers and ranchers are fortunate to have a legislature filled with people who are either still farming or understand the industry.
“I think it was another outstanding session where agriculture got a lot of help from the legislature,” he said. “That’s due in no small part to having lot of people in the legislature who are still very closely tied to agriculture and the industry.”
Most farm leaders said the signature bill for agriculture this session was the Ag Security Act, which makes it a crime to interfere with agricultural operations or secretly film them.
Roger Batt, a lobbyist who represents 14 different farm or natural resources groups, said it was the most important piece of legislature for farmers since the state’s Right to Farm Act was strengthened in 2011.
“It was a monumental piece of legislation for Idaho agriculture,” he said.
The bill was authored by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association but was supported by most of agriculture. FPI members voted unanimously to support it.
Batt, who supported the bill on behalf of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Seed Association, provided lawmakers examples of seed plots in other states that have been destroyed by activists.
The bill will help deter someone from fraudulently gaining employment with a seed company and then divulging the location of seed plots, he said.
“Idaho’s seed industry is a $500 million industry and we need to protect it as best we can,” he said.
Batt said the legislation is about much more than just protecting dairies and seed companies.
“There are so many anti-agriculture folks out there right now that are trying to do things to disrupt (farming) operations,” he said. “We need to protect our farmers and ranchers the best we can because that’s exactly what they deserve.”
The bill was attacked during public hearings by environmentalists and activists who claim it is an attempt to silence free speech and will result in alleged animal abuse going unreported.
“This piece of legislation took a lot of energy, a great deal of time and drew a great deal of media (attention),” Waitley said.
The 105-member Idaho Legislature also approved a bill that creates a new board that will have about $620,000 available annually to help fund wolf control efforts.
The legislation will result in the state’s wool assessment increasing from 8 cents to 10 cents a pound and cattle producers will pay $125 every five years to renew their brand, a 25 percent increase.
Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, said the extra financial burden is worth it to ranchers to ensure wolves are kept under control.
“I think it’s going to make a real difference,” he said.
The legislature unanimously agreed to fund Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to dedicate $15 million in state money to multiple water supply improvement projects across the state.
It also approved or funded most of a proposed Idaho Ag Education Initiative, which seeks $2.24 million annually to shore up and expand the state’s agricultural education programs, and increased the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences budget by $1.5 million.
Another bill will allow agricultural operations to use state inmate labor when there aren’t enough workers available to harvest or process perishable commodities.
“The inmate labor bill could prove to be a valuable bill and opportunity for growers,” Waitley said.
The legislature also approved bills dealing with bees, elk ranches, statewide trichomoniasis testing, dairy commissioner pay, taxes on food donations, wineries, scrap metal, horses, soybeans and farm equipment.
Farm leaders were hard-pressed to come up with any significant disappointments for agriculture this year.
“I can’t think of any major (farm-related) bill that was defeated,” Boyd said. “I think all in all, it was a pretty good session for agriculture.”