Food Producers of Idaho gives ag a voice

Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley in front of Idaho's Capitol in Boise. The group has grown into an effective voice of agriculture in the state.

Food Producers of Idaho can best be described as lightning in a bottle. While groups in many states endeavor to “tell ag’s story,” in Idaho the Food Producers provide the message writ large.

Food Producers began in 1970 as an ad hoc group of agriculture-related organizations to address labor issues. Once that initial goal was achieved, the group drifted for a while until it identified its true purpose: providing a forum for all issues related to Idaho ag.

A key element of the group is a that all comers are invited — large and small companies and organizations and large and small individual farmers and ranchers. The door is also open to processors, cooperatives, lenders, government agencies, the University of Idaho, soil and water conservation districts, water groups and others. The cost of joining is minimal: $800 for full members, $275 for associate members without voting privileges and $55 for individuals. Thus the divide that sometimes emerges between large and small farmers was avoided.

“There’s power in numbers when we can all stand together for Idaho agriculture,” said Gayle Batt, a former Food Producers president and a representative of the Idaho Water Users Association.

Rick Waitley has been particularly effective as the executive director since 1989. He’s been with the organization since 1977. Legislators know he has his finger on the pulse of Idaho agriculture.

But what makes Food Producers particularly effective is the state’s legislators, congressional delegation and governor use it as a sounding board for agricultural issues.

An example of the group’s effectiveness was mentioned in a recent Capital Press story about the group. The Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association encountered proposed legislation that would require nursery stock that is poisonous to eat to carry a red warning tag.

A silly as it may sound, the issue needed to be addressed. Anyone who has been around politicians knows that even the silliest ideas have the potential to gain traction.

The Food Producers took up the issue and amplified the concerns the nursery group had, and the proposal was dropped.

Other states have groups that are variations on the theme and help agriculture speak out, but because Food Producers of Idaho represents a cross section and has a low barrier to entry, it sets a high standard for such groups.

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