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Study: Water call impact would be huge

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

The negative impact of a major water call on the Magic Valley's farming economy would be huge, according to a University of Idaho report.

A University of Idaho study shows that a major water call could have a huge negative impact on the Magic Valley’s agricultural economy and the entire state.

The valley’s six counties account for more than 50 percent of Idaho’s total farm-gate cash receipts and 25 percent of Idaho’s gross state product.

Almost 60 percent of Idaho’s sugar beets are grown in the Magic Valley, 54 percent of the state’s corn crop is grown there, 41 percent of dry beans, 35 percent of barley, 30 percent of alfalfa, 26 percent of potatoes, 23 percent of winter wheat and 15 percent of spring wheat.

In addition, the state’s dairy industry, which accounts for the largest chunk of Idaho’s total farm-gate receipts, is centered there.

“The Magic Valley is the center of intensive agricultural production for the state of Idaho,” said Steve Hines, a UI extension educator for Jerome County and author of the report, “Potential Economic Effects of a Water Call on the Magic Valley.”

“What happens there is important to the rest of Idaho,” said Hines, who presented his findings to lawmakers recently. “Agriculture is big business in Idaho.”

Forty-two percent of the valley’s 905,000 irrigated acres get their water from ground water sources. The report assumes a 25 percent call on ground water acreage, which would curtail 10 percent of the total irrigated acreage.

Hines estimated that type of curtailment would result in a $109 million loss in farm-gate receipts.

That includes a $26 million loss in revenue from alfalfa, $24 million from potatoes, $17 million from corn, $14 million from sugar beets, $11 million from barley, $3 million from beans and a combined $14 million from winter and spring wheat.

Assuming a 5 percent loss of alfalfa and corn acres to curtailment, enough to feed 18,000 cows, Hines calculates the negative impact to the Magic Valley economy from the loss of milk and cheese production would be $277 million.

Hines said his study is only a peek at the production side and doesn’t include impacts to processing. The negative impact could be much worse, he said.

For example, “Can Amalgamated (Sugar Co.) afford to lose $14 million worth of beets?” he said.

Though irrigators in that part of the state will probably not face a significant water call this year, they are concerned about pending and future water calls, said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association.

Tominaga agreed with Hines that the full impact to the state’s economy of such a curtailment would be far worse than just the loss in production.

“Just think of the tax base,” he said. “Most farm ground would be devalued, so land values of $4,000 to $5,000 an acre would go down to $300 an acre. Then look at all the jobs that would be lost and the fertilizer dealers and tire dealers and so on that would be affected.”


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