Idaho Gov. Brad Little, in his first State of the State and Budget Address opening the legislative session Jan. 7, put agriculture high on his list of priorities.
“Agriculture remains the backbone of Idaho’s economy,” said Little, a rancher from Emmett. “As is often the case, agriculture is coping with the effects of significant challenges, from commodity prices to transportation and trade. As they have for generations, progressive farmers and ranchers meet these challenges by increasing their production and efficiency.”
Idaho remains heavily trade-dependent, with around $2 billion in agricultural exports annually, he said. “When markets are open, agriculture makes the most of these opportunities. When markets are disrupted, we feel it.
“The profitability of Idaho agriculture and its ability to compete nationally and internationally is dependent upon the time and cost of getting our products to consumers,” Little said. “I look forward to working with you to increase rail access, address truck shortages and reduce the burdens of federal regulations.”
The Idaho Water Resource Board and constituents doubled the state’s goal in refilling and replenishing the large Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in the past year, adding more water than was removed, he said. The effort must be ongoing, he said.
And regardless of snowpack, streamflows and aquifers in a given year, “we must focus on expanding the water infrastructure across our state,” Little said.
Idaho-based collaboration “is key to addressing the many issues facing public lands,” he said.
Idaho and USDA recently entered a first-of-its kind agreement that aims to reduce wildfire risk collaboratively.
“The new ‘shared stewardship’ approach unifies land management activities that are now disjointed across federal, state and privately owned tracts,” said Little. “We’ll use all the tools available to us to reduce fuels around communities, including timber harvest, prescribed burns and other activities.”
More than 300 ranchers and farmers belong to nine rangeland fire protection associations across southern Idaho, he said. He wants to expand the concept.
“The initial attack and intel they provide on more than 9 million acres of Idaho’s rangeland have given Idaho significantly improved chances against the devastation of large wildfires,” Little said. “I want to carry over this successful wildland-firefighting model to Idaho’s forestlands by expanding the initial attack capability of our loggers.”
The Idaho Department of Commerce in the past year analyzed the statewide challenge of inadequate broadband internet access.
“To ensure Idaho can adapt to the rapidly evolving digital world, we must actively work to improve Idaho’s broadband access, pursuing all options to increase broadband connectivity,” Little said.
The proposed budget he presented to the Idaho Legislature includes $8 million to replace the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s nearly 54-year-old Animal, Dairy and Plant Pathology Lab in Boise. It would support growth in dairy and other agriculture sectors, including the new beef-processing plant in Kuna, an executive budget summary said.
Legislation is proposed to remove the sunset clause on the state Wolf Depredation Control Board. The governor’s budget calls for $200,000 to fund the state’s portion of the program, which is a partnership among livestock owners, sportsmen and the state.
Little also proposes $175,000 for livestock disease control and inspection. This is dedicated-fund spending authority for animal lab services, disease control and Sheep Commission inspections.
The governor calls for $757,300 and three full-time positions for continued implementation of the Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Idaho is assuming primacy from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.