Courtesy Idaho Department of Lands
BOISE — The Idaho Land Board could decide as soon as Dec. 5 whether to establish a new grazing rate formula on state endowment lands.
An Idaho Department of Lands subcommittee and advisory group has been reviewing the methodology of the state’s grazing rate formula, which hasn’t changed since 1993.
Five alternatives are on the table, including one that would retain the state’s current grazing rate formula, which resulted in a grazing rate of $9.01 per animal unit month this year.
An AUM is the amount of forage needed to feed a cow and calf for a month.
The average grazing rate on private land in Idaho was $18 in 2017.
The IDL manages 1,139 grazing leases on 1.4 million acres of state endowment land, representing a total of 257,370 AUMs.
A review of the alternatives by the University of Idaho’s Policy Analysis Group shows that the alternatives, not including the status quo choice, would result in a state grazing lease rate ranging from $9.21-$15.94 per AUM in 2017.
Those findings were presented to the advisory group Oct. 25.
The analysis deemed the status quo alternative as insufficient, which was criticized as biased by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Director of Governmental Affairs Russ Hendricks, a member of the subcommittee.
“Contrary to what was presented today, there is plenty of evidence that the status quo formula is providing a steady, stable return to the beneficiaries of the endowment,” he told Capital Press later.
He pointed out that of the 118 comments submitted to IDL during a public comment period, 102 supported keeping the current grazing rate formula while only 16 percent supported a change.
“The feedback we got was overwhelmingly in support of the status quo,” said IDL Director Tom Schultz.
A total of 78 of the comments were standardized form letters submitted by IFBF and only three of those were from actual lesses, according to IDL officials.
Of the 31 comments received from lesses, 17 supported the status quo and nine supported a revised version of the existing formula.
“If you take out those (IFBF) comments, there was still overwhelming support for the status quo,” Hendricks said.
He said much of the discussion about the issue has centered on public land grazing rates not tracking with private land grazing rates over the years.
With a state grazing land lease, a rancher is simply paying for the forage, Hendricks said. With a private land lease, he said, a producer is paying for the grass plus a set of services that could include fencing, water and predator or noxious weed control.
“It’s really odd to me that people seem to think state land leases should automatically track along with the price of private land leases when they’re two totally different products,” Hendricks said.
During the advisory group meeting, a lot of emphasis was placed on having solid justification for whichever alternative is chosen.
“It’s very important we pick a formula we can defend,” said subcommittee member and rancher Jim Hagenbarth.
The land board could establish a grazing rate formula during a special meeting Dec. 5.