NAMPA, Idaho — Rep. Brandon Hixon, a Republican businessman from Caldwell, has always appreciated agriculture.
The area in Idaho he represents is in the middle of one of the state’s most valuable agricultural regions, where more than 100 different farm commodities are produced.
But after a three-day legislative tour that gave almost half of Idaho’s 105 lawmakers a close-up look at farm country in the Treasure Valley, Hixon has a renewed recognition for what agriculture means to the state.
“It blows your mind when you get to take a look at everything that is involved with agriculture,” he said Aug. 28 as the three-day farm tour was coming to a close. “This is amazing. It’s interesting to say the least.”
The Nampa-Caldwell Chambers of Commerce Agribusiness Committee was the tour’s main sponsor but at least 50 agricultural players contributed to it financially.
During the tour, 50 Idaho lawmakers were taken to farms, a feedlot and dairy, an onion shipper, the state’s largest wine-producing vineyard, a mint distillation operation and grower-owned Amalgamated Sugar Co.
“We’re trying to educate them about the agricultural industry from every single angle,” said Sid Freeman, one of several farmers who accompanied lawmakers on the tour. “The whole purpose of this tour is to help them understand how the rules and regulations they are making affect us at the ground level.”
The tour included a lunch stop at Lake Lowell reservoir, where Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko explained the critical role irrigation water plays in farming.
“The $7.7 billion agricultural economy in this state is fueled by irrigation water,” he said. “Its importance can’t be overstated.”
Even lawmakers with a farming background, such as Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said they learned new things about agriculture during the tour.
Palmer, a business owner, was shocked at the sheer numbers involved with agriculture.
“Agriculture is our biggest money maker in Idaho and this tour reminds you how important it is,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated agriculture … but it’s always good to be able to go out and learn more about it.”
One of the highlights was a specially made agricultural plot at the University of Idaho’s Parma research center that included 20 of the main crops grown in the valley. Farmers and industry experts were on hand to answer questions and provide insight and lawmakers had the opportunity to drive a tractor and set siphon tubes.
Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, a grain farmer, said it was a valuable opportunity for fellow lawmakers to see first-hand how important research is to agriculture, the engine that powers the state’s economy.
“I hope this is an eye-opener for urban legislators,” he said. “Agricultural research is very important to farmers (and) this agricultural base has kept the state whole during this economic downturn.”