Study: State's farmers rely less on government subsidies
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho farmers became much less reliant on government payments last year and earned a larger share of their income from the marketplace.
University of Idaho agricultural economists estimate that federal government payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers in fiscal 2012 totaled $97 million, which is a 15 percent decrease from 2011. That followed a 26 percent decline in 2011 and it continued a 12-year slide in government payments to Idaho agriculture.
"We don't farm the government, we farm the market," said UI ag economist Garth Taylor, who helped calculate the totals. "Government payments are a real minor part of (Idaho farmers') total income."
The UI data show Idaho farmers are much less reliant on government payments than the average U.S. farmer. Government payments accounted for 9.6 percent of U.S. net farm income in 2012, while in Idaho those payments only accounted for 3.9 percent of net farm income.
Federal payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers have declined by 60 percent since 2000. In inflation-adjusted dollars, government payments to Idaho agriculture have decreased dramatically since they peaked at $398 million in 1986.
Of the big five crops -- wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and rice -- that receive four out of every five direct payment dollars in the United States, only wheat is grown on a large scale in Idaho, Taylor points out. Most corn in Idaho is grown for silage.
Unlike many Midwestern states, Idaho has a lot of crops and producers that don't qualify for farm bill programs, said Dick Rush, state executive director of the Idaho Farm Service Agency.
"Idaho has a very diversified agricultural economy," he said. "Because of that huge diversity that we have in the state ... we also have fewer producers that are eligible for government payments."
Even those who are eligible are receiving less government support because of increased yields and prices, he said.
As a result, "More of their income is coming from the marketplace rather than government programs."
Production support payments accounted for 47 percent of federal government payments to Idaho farmers in fiscal 2012, conservation program payments accounted for 39 percent, price support program payments 8 percent and emergency program payments 6 percent.
Taylor said Gem State farmers' reduced reliance on government payments has helped keep Idaho agriculture nimble and healthy in recent years. Idaho agriculture has set records for total cash receipts and total net income, despite a sharp drop in government payments, for two straight years.
He also said Idaho's declining reliance on farm programs mean the state's producers will be less susceptible to cuts anticipated in the new farm bill.