Idaho officials want to make Idaho the Silicon Valley of agricultural technology, a place where cutting edge ideas lead to good-paying off-farm jobs for the state’s young people.

It’s a good idea.

Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer says investment in agricultural technology has skyrocketed in recent years — $150 million in 2012, $1.8 billion in 2014.

“There’s no reason that capital can’t come to Idaho,” he said. “Idaho has unique assets and if we pull them together, they have a critical mass that would get the world’s attention.”

He makes his case by noting there’s already a lot going on in Idaho, both in the public and private sectors.

• The Idaho National Laboratory is studying ways to help the dairy industry utilize animal waste.

• Idaho’s state universities and research stations are conducting research on a host of topics, including unmanned aerial vehicles, “big data” and sensor technology.

• National dairy companies are moving global research centers to Idaho.

“We’ve got to somehow bring all of this (expertise) together under a coalesced ag tech umbrella ... so that we can put it on display for the rest of the world and be part of this wave that’s sweeping the nation,” Sayer said.

Agriculture is big business in Idaho.

Idaho farmers produce the second-highest net farm income in the West. The state has a robust processing industry. It makes sense to build on that by developing a supportive high tech industry that can employ engineers, researchers and skilled manufacturing workers.

And not just in Idaho.

Big things are happening throughout the Northwest, and opportunities abound.

A tightening labor market increases the need for viable mechanized pickers for the fruit industry. Ongoing water shortages will be addressed by more sophisticated irrigation techniques and equipment.

Agriculture faces a number of challenges, and more advanced technology is the answer. At the same time, the region has seen traditional natural resource jobs wane.

There are rewarding careers awaiting the young people of the Northwest if the public and private sectors can help facilitate a focused effort to develop this new industry.

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