Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:00 PM
Sean Ellis/Capital Press
Hay is harvested in a field near Nampa, Idaho, recently. Idaho's farming sector has led the state's recent gains in personal income and gross state product.
Personal income in farming sector jumps 41 percent
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho's farming sector is leading the state's recent gains in personal income and gross state product, and agriculture's strong performance the past few years hasn't gone unnoticed.
Idaho's gross state product -- the value of all goods and services produced -- totaled $57.9 billion in 2011, a 3.4 percent increase over 2010. GSP in the agriculture sector rose 21.3 percent, from $2.8 billion to $3.4 billion, by far the largest increase of any sector.
Farming also led Idaho's 5.4 percent increase in total personal income during 2011, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. Personal income is the value of all wages, business profits, investment earnings and government transfer payments such as Social Security.
Total personal income in the farming sector during 2011 jumped 41 percent over 2010, from $1.6 billion to $2.22 billion.
During the first quarter of 2012, personal income in the farming sector rose 5.2 percent or $111 million compared with the first quarter of 2011.
Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould said people have taken note of ag's strong performance.
"The strength of Idaho agriculture's economic performance in the past couple of years has enhanced public awareness among the citizens of Idaho of the critical role the production of food and fiber plays in our state and our rural communities," she said.
Dan Cravens, a regional IDL economist in southeast Idaho, said the farming sector has helped keep unemployment rates in ag-dependent rural areas well below the state and national averages.
While statewide unemployment is 7.5 percent, heavily ag-dependent counties such as Oneida (4.2 percent), Franklin (4.5 percent), Bear Lake (4.6 percent), Caribou (5.9 percent) and Bingham (6.2 percent) are faring much better. Nine counties in Idaho still have double-digit unemployment rates and those counties are more dependent on mining, tourism and timber, he said.
"I think the relationship those counties have with agriculture has definitely been a very positive factor in their economies," Cravens said. "We've seen significantly lower unemployment in those counties than in other parts of the state."
Idaho's overall farm community is certainly performing well right now but higher input costs continue to cut into that success, Shelley grain farmer Stan Searle said.
"Our gross returns (this year) are probably 5 to 6 percent higher ... but input costs are up quite a bit more than they were last year," he said.
Searle said farm commodity prices and net farm income are both up and have been pretty stable for a few years.
"I don't think there are any farmers out there going broke," he said. "But when the farming's done this year and farmers (figure out) their returns, I think a lot of people are going to be surprised."
That said, he added, it's apparent to state leaders and others that farmers are driving the state's slow economic recovery.
"Agriculture is the only reason the economy here in Idaho is doing what it is doing right now. I think everybody understands that," he said.