Idaho farmers receive fewer government payments

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Government payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers dropped 17 percent in 2013 to $105 million, continuing a 13-year slide. Idaho farmers are much less dependent on government payments than the average U.S. farmer.

BOISE — Government payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers totaled $105 million in 2013, a 17 percent or $22 million decrease from 2012.

The decrease continued a 13-year decline in direct government payments to Idaho farmers and federal payments to Gem State producers have declined by more than 60 percent since 2000.

“Our projections are that government payments to Idaho farmers are going to continue to decline,” said John Foltz, dean of University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

The projections were made by UI agricultural economists and are based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

They show that government payments accounted for only 3.9 percent of Idaho producers’ total net income in 2013. They accounted for 8.7 percent of total U.S. net farm income by comparison.

While government payments play an important role for some parts of Idaho agriculture, they are not that important for the whole sector, Foltz said. He also said Idaho agriculture will be less impacted by any changes in the new farm bill because it’s less dependent on government payments.

Government payments “are important (to Idaho farmers) but they are not super vitally important,” Foltz said. “They are important for some people but for the whole sector, they’re not that important.”

Ron Abbott, farm programs chief for the Idaho Farm Service Agency, said that Idaho, compared with many other states, produces less of the big five crops — wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and rice — that receive 80 percent of direct payment dollars.

Only wheat is grown on a large scale in Idaho and most of the corn grown here is produced for silage.

“That’s the principal reason” that Idaho receives a much smaller percentage of government payments, Abbott said. “We just don’t grow a lot of those crops.”

When adjusted for inflation, government payments to Idaho farmers peaked at $398 million in 1986 and have dropped 74 percent since then.

Production support payments accounted for half of all government payments to Idaho producers last year, conservation programs accounted for 38 percent, price support programs 7 percent and emergency programs 5 percent.