By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho agriculture continues to set records, as several all-time marks for revenue, net income and exports fell by the wayside in 2011.
At least on the revenue side, Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould can't remember a time quite like today for Gem State farmers and ranchers.
"The numbers indicate it's never been this good," said Gould, who has led the department since 2007, runs a beef operation and produces wheat, corn and hay.
Q Just how good is the current situation for Idaho farmers and ranchers?
A It's a great time to be an Idaho farmer. While agriculture is a balancing game of winners and losers where some sectors boom while others don't, it is an industry with many bright spots right now. I am optimistic agriculture can be a positive force for getting our state -- and ultimately country -- turned around economically.
Q What are the brightest spots in Idaho agriculture at the moment?
A Cash receipts are at an all-time high for the industry as a whole and Idaho ag exports were up 27 percent in 2011, shattering the former record set in 2008. Farm income is also at record levels. What's equally important is that Idaho agriculture is healthy and robust at a core level. Debt-to-equity ratios are at record lows and the industry has been successful despite very high input costs.
Q What are the main challenges facing Idaho farmers right now?
A Continued high input costs. Looking forward, it doesn't look like fuel or feed costs will be going down any time soon. Also, the nation's budget crisis is putting a strain on farming and ranching programs, from funding for depredation programs to invasive species and pest management programs that impact agriculture. Costs from increasing regulatory burdens are difficult to quantify and may be highly variable for individual producers.
Q How successful was Idaho's December trade mission to Mexico and Brazil?
A Very successful. Estimates are that sales resulting from the mission in the coming year will be $30 million. Several rail cars and about 10 truckloads of bean seed have been shipped to Mexico since then. And 15 Mexican bean and seed buyers are planning a trip to Idaho in the coming weeks. Follow-up is ongoing for several companies with very promising business partnerships.
Q Do you have high hopes for the upcoming April trade mission to China?
A Yes. China is Idaho's fourth-largest agriculture export market and one of the fastest growing. There are opportunities for wheat, processed potatoes (frozen and dehydrated), oilseeds, frozen vegetables, dairy products, meat, animal hides and seed.
Q Is there any advice you could offer farmers and ranchers?
A Utilize existing ISDA resources. The department can be a great resource for farmers and ranchers across the state. We're more than just a regulatory agency.
We do a lot of promotion and market development, and we can help farmers work through any regulatory issues.