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A look at agriculture in Boundary County

BONNERS FERRY – The primary focus of Boundary County Farm Bureau is helping educate the county’s youth through farm and ranch programs such as FFA and 4-H.

Increasingly, though, farmers and ranchers in Idaho’s most northern county are thinking of ways to educate the newcomers flocking to the area about agriculture.

“There are a lot of new people here who know nothing about agriculture and so far we haven’t done much to reach them, but we know we need to do something to educate these people about agriculture, too,” says Elizabeth Wood, who owns and operates a cattle operation near Naples and is a member of the BCFB board of directors.

Though the growth occurring in the county hasn’t reached the almost out-of-control levels seen in some other parts of the state, Boundary County is starting to experience accelerated growth, says Tom Daniel, who farms hay and wheat in Bonners Ferry.

“We’re seeing what for us is a large influx of people into the county and they’re coming from all over,” says Daniel, a member of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors.

“The price of property has skyrocketed as a result,” he adds. “That makes it hard to buy a piece of land to farm on because the value is way up.”

Daniel says the growth hasn’t caused major issues for the county’s agricultural industry yet, as it has in the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho, but it’s starting to get to that point.

“It’s definitely on our doorstep, coming,” he says.

Like most of northern Idaho, Bonners Ferry, the county’s largest city, has been discovered and people are moving into the area in droves, says Bob Smathers, IFBF’s regional field manager in North Idaho.

“Like Kootenai County to the south, land here is being gobbled up and developed,” he says. “This usually does not bode well for agriculture, but fortunately the pace of growth in Boundary County is not as crazy as in other areas in northern Idaho; but it is happening.”

As of right now, the Boundary County Farm Bureau’s big focus is on helping youth, Wood says.

“As a board, that is a big focus, working with 4-H and FFA; we like to go into the schools and teach kids about agriculture,” she says. “Also, a lot of our Farm Bureau members are 4-H leaders or serve on the FFA advisory board.”

“That’s our biggest push, supporting the youth through 4-H and FFA,” says BCFB President John Kellogg, a hay farmer from Bonners Ferry.

Only a tiny percentage of the farmland in Boundary County is irrigated but because much of the county receives an ample supply of rainfall and the valley floor is sub-irrigated by the Kootenai River, farmers here produce a wide variety of crops, including cereal grains, hay, oats, grass seed, canola and hops.

“Too little water is not a problem for farmers here,” says Smathers.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the county’s farmers grew 15,902 acres of hay during the 2017 census year, 8,378 acres of wheat, 2,333 acres of barley and 3,256 acres of canola.

The county is also home to a 1,700-acre hop farm that supplies hops to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The county also has a sizable nursery crop industry and because much of the county is forested, timber is a major commodity here and source of employment for many people in the county.

Cattle and calves is another major agricultural commodity in Boundary County and there were 4,914 cattle and calves in the county in 2017, as well as 1,926 sheep and lambs, according to the ag census.

According to the census, there were 348 farms in Boundary County in 2017 and 68,884 acres of land in farms.

The average size of a farm in Boundary County is 198 acres, much smaller than the statewide average of 468 acres.

Eleven percent of the county’s farms sold directly to consumers in 2017, compared with 7 percent statewide.

Only 79 percent of the county’s farms had internet access in 2017, according to the ag census.

Internet connectivity is not a major issue “but reliable internet that you can afford is,” Kellogg says.

Wood says she has internet service “but there are times when you’re working on a computer and you lose total service.”

Daniel says grizzly bears are increasingly becoming a concern in Boundary County and Farm Bureau members and others “are trying to convince the federal government that they’re not nice, cuddly things. There have been no human interactions with grizzlies here yet but it’s just a matter of time before that happens.”