CALDWELL, Idaho — A panel of farm industry leaders provided members of the Caldwell business community a look at some of the major issues and challenges the state’s farming community faces.
The Oct. 10 event was sponsored by the Nampa-Caldwell Agribusiness Committee and attracted about 90 members of the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce.
The purpose of the event was to give members of the business community who might not be involved in agriculture a greater understanding of the industry and the challenges it faces, said agribusiness member Darrell Bolz, who moderated the panel discussion.
“It’s really to give them a little broader perspective on what’s going on in agriculture,” he said.
Nampa, Idaho’s third-largest city, and Caldwell, which ranks sixth in population, are located in Canyon County, one of the state’s more diverse farming counties.
While one of the state’s smallest counties in size, Canyon County ranks No. 5 out of the state’s 44 counties in total farm cash receipts.
Jim Thomssen, a member of the Caldwell chamber’s board of directors, said the annual event is also held to “make sure everybody knows what a great part of the economy agriculture is.”
The panel discussed a wide range of topics, including the industry’s struggles with finding enough workers.
“Labor is a big challenge for us right now,” said Beranna Dairy owner Bernie Teunissen. “There simply is not enough bodies to get the work done.”
Bolz asked the panelists where they see technology taking agriculture in the future and all four agreed it would play an increasing role.
Over the past 15 years, “The growers that have stayed in business are those that have adopted technology and I think that’s going to continue,” said Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson.
Teunissen said the use of robotics in the dairy industry is just getting started.
“That’s rapidly advancing, which will really help with the labor situation,” he said. “I expect it to really accelerate in the next 10 years.”
Idaho Power representative Dennis Merrick said precision agriculture has already helped farmers save money.
“Technology in irrigation is going to become more efficient and precise (in the future),” he said. “I think it’s going to benefit farmers quite a bit.”
There was unanimous agreement by the panelists that the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is being renegotiated by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, has benefited agriculture and is fine largely the way it is.
“It’s treated us pretty well as far as the ability to move cattle back and forth,” said Idaho Cattle Association Executive Vice President Cameron Mulrony. “We’d like NAFTA to be left like it is.”
“I think among the agriculture industry, there is the near unanimous opinion that NAFTA is good,” Jacobson said.
When it comes to preserving farmland, panelists said growers are split on that issue, with some wanting to protect agricultural ground and others adamant about protecting their right to sell to developers if they choose.
“It’s a very controversial subject in the farming community,” Teunissen said.