Idaho grows agricultural sector

Idaho opens its doors to agriculture, and it pays off.

Published on March 6, 2014 9:54AM

Our View

Idaho’s leaders are writing the book on how to grow their state’s agricultural economy.

Tax and regulatory structures are agreeable to business. The cost of living is low, as is the state minimum wage. The governor understands business and agriculture, as does the lieutenant governor. Most members of the state Legislature have rural backgrounds or are farmers and ranchers.

That combination is yielding a bounty of economic progress in Idaho, where company after company is building processing plants, bakeries and factories. One by one, major companies are announcing plans to build in Idaho. Two companies announced plans to build meat processing plants in the state just last week.

Idaho is famous for its potatoes, but it is becoming even more famous for its agricultural economic growth story. The numbers tell part of the story. According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, the amount of land in Idaho devoted to farming increased 2 percent since 2007. That’s when many states are turning over farm land to developers.

Idaho’s farmers are also over achievers. The 24,815 farms in the state produced crops and livestock worth $7.8 billion. By comparison, in Oregon, which has 10,625 more farms than Idaho, the total production value was $4.8 billion. Washington state, with its 37,249 farms, had total production of $9.1 billion.

The manufacturers building in Idaho are adding value to that agricultural production. Instead of exporting raw crops, added-value products such as Greek yogurt, cheese and french fries are made in Idaho and sold nationwide and internationally.

Twin Falls is the epicenter of what Gov. Butch Otter calls the “Magic Valley Miracle.” Chobani Greek Yogurt has invested $413 million in its 1 million-square-foot plant, and Clif Bar is building a bakery that will start with a $90 million investment and grow to $160 million. Companies like Monsanto and Glanbia have or are investing in research centers. McCain Foods will invest more than $100 million to expand its Burley potato processing plant and Frulact will build a plant in nearby Rupert.

The expansion is spilling into other parts of the state, too. Materne North America is building an $85 million fruit processing plant near Nampa.

To entice these and other businesses, the state uses a combination of low taxes, incentives, grants and credits. But it also offers a can-do spirit of cooperation lacking in some states. Instead of looking for excuses not to do something, Idaho leaders seem to be looking for ways to help make things happen.

Otter describes the progress as the result of “leveraging our assets and resources in a way that adds value to our products and services in the marketplace.”

“From the city councils to the county commissions, from the urban renewal areas to the economic development organizations, and from local highway districts to the governor’s office, the Magic Valley is committed to planning and working together toward the shared goal of raising the tide of economic activity in a way that lifts everyone’s boat,” Otter said.

Idaho also benefits from the way other states treat agriculture. As California was clamping more regulations on dairies and pushing them out of the state, Idaho opened its doors. The result is a major dairy hub, with dairies, milk processors, cheese makers and yogurt makers congregating in southern Idaho. That in turn is creating demand for feed crops and generating interest in building meat processing facilities.

Idaho’s record is impressive and worth emulating. Leaders of other states would do well to take a close look at Idaho and how its leaders have cultivated a growing agriculture sector.


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