Idaho Ag Business Recovering, Changing

Idaho agriculture has bounced back from the decline it experienced between 2002 and 2007 according to the new 2012 Census of Agriculture. But the composition of Idaho farms is shifting.

While agricultural acreage increased more than 2 percent since 2007 to regain 2002 levels, the number of farms declined since 2007 by about the same percentage, and the commodities being grown have changed.

Ag chart 1

The latest agricultural census, which provides data critical to producers and policy makers, has been driven by the global economy’s impact on market prices, the recession and the real estate bust. In 2007 the housing market had yet to collapse, farmland was being earmarked for subdivisions, commodity prices were low and the organic and local food movements were still in their early stages.

By 2012, some of the farm land destined for development was being replanted, the world and national economies were beginning to recover. Markets were strengthening and consumer preference was changing. So was the mix of commodities produced by farmers in Idaho and across the nation.

Ag table 1

By acreage, only mid-size farms – 180 to 499 acres – and the largest – over 999 acres – saw an increase in numbers. The more than 2.1 percent decline in the number of farms between 2007 and 2012 was predominantly smaller farms. Nearly 700 farms disappeared in the other four acreage classes and more than 600 of those had fewer than 180 acres. Five hundred were fewer than 50 acres.

The loss in smaller farms was offset by more mid-sized and large farms for a net reduction statewide of 533.

This trend started in the last century as corporate and industrial farming gained ground mainly because of their higher profits. The growth has been curbed more recently by the shift in consumer preference toward healthier organic and locally grown food.

Populated areas have the most farms while rural areas have the biggest farms. Hobby farms in urban and suburban areas give way to production-level operations in rural areas where fewer people generate fewer complaints.

Ag table 2

Hay production has benefited dramatically from the West-wide drought, and receipts rose over 50 percent between the censuses. That has continued as drought continues to plague California horse and cattle ranchers.

Livestock producers outside of the dairy industry faced challenges for a number of years, but prices recently recovered and producers are seeing a return on their investments. The industry is still strained because Idaho has no commercial slaughterhouse.

Ag table 3

South central Idaho still leads Idaho’s agricultural sector. Farm receipts steadily rose from about 40 percent of the state total in 2002 to almost 50 percent in 2012, reflecting the substantial influence of the dairy industry on the region.

Ag Table 4

From 2007 to 2012 there was agricultural growth in every region of the state. North central Idaho at 45 percent and south central Idaho at 43 percent led the way. High commodity prices were affected by global weather patterns and increasing demand for commodities from developing countries. The milk industry has also boosted the bottom line of hay and grain producers by providing a built-in market with lower transportation costs.

North central Idaho was the only region to join the south central part of the state in experiencing an increased share of statewide farm receipts between 2002 and 2012. Its share rose from 3.8 percent in 2002, rising to 4.1 percent in 2012.

Ag chart 2

Ag table 5

Idaho’s top agricultural counties are pretty much the same as they have always been, but their receipts have grown dramatically. South central Idaho has four of the five top producing counties, and during good times, their agricultural base carries other industries such as retail, wholesale, transportation, health care, hospitality and leisure.

Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500, ext. 3639