Idaho agriculture growing faster than U.S. ag overall

A dry bean field is harvested in September 2016. Idaho agriculture is growing at a much faster rate than U.S. agriculture as a whole, a University of Idaho agricultural economist told lawmakers.

BOISE — Total cash receipts and net farm income in Idaho declined last year, but not as much as many people thought and the state’s farming sector is outperforming U.S. agriculture over the past several years.

That was one of the messages that University of Idaho Agricultural Economist Garth Taylor delivered to lawmakers during an overview of the state’s agricultural sector.

During a year in which prices for most of the state’s main farm commodities were low, total farm cash receipts in Idaho declined 4 percent in 2016 to $7.2 billion and net farm income dipped 13 percent to $1.6 billion, according to projections by UI economists.

“That’s no surprise to anybody,” Taylor told members of the House and Senate agricultural affairs committees last week. “The surprise is that it’s down as little as it was.”

And compared with U.S. agriculture overall, Idaho’s farming sector is growing much faster when it comes to net farm income and cash receipts recently over the long term, he said.

From 1980 to 2015, Idaho farm cash receipts have increased 144 percent when adjusted for inflation while U.S. cash receipts have grown by 116 percent.

Idaho net farm income has increased 233 percent since 1980 on an inflation adjusted basis compared with 140 percent nationwide.

“Idaho agriculture is on a far different track than the U.S. as a whole,” Taylor said. “It’s phenomenal that we’re growing that much faster in Idaho than the U.S. as a whole.”

The reason, he said, is that Idaho is now a livestock state, a trend that began with the explosion of the state’s dairy industry in the late 1990s.

The dairy and cattle industries combined account for more than 60 percent of the state’s total farm cash receipts and when feed crops such as corn silage, hay, beet pulp and potato waste are counted, that number rises to more than 75 percent, Taylor said.

On an inflation adjusted basis, Idaho livestock cash receipts have grown 215 percent since 1980 while they have grown 113 percent nationwide, Taylor said.

“Livestock are behind the growth of cash receipts in Idaho and it’s principally dairy,” he said.

Taylor also stressed how important agriculture is to the state’s economy, pointing out that agriculture directly and indirectly accounts for 20 percent of the state’s total sales, 14 percent of its jobs and 16 percent of its total gross domestic product.

The bulk of Idaho’s farm GDP comes from farmers as opposed to food processing and other agribusiness, Taylor said. Farm GDP has grown more than twice as fast as total state GDP since 1997, while food manufacturing GDP is level, he said.

“It’s not (agribusiness), it’s farming,” he said. “Grandma and grandpa on a tractor.”

Sen. Jim Patrick, a Republican farmer from Twin Falls, said it was encouraging to see how Idaho’s ag sector is growing compared with the nation overall.

But, he added, that growth doesn’t take the sing out of the financial strain a lot of individual farmers are feeling right now because of low commodity prices.

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