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Ag a main theme in State of State address

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – Gov. Brad Little’s first State of the State address contained a strong recognition of the important role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy.

In fact, his 4,000-word address contained numerous references and shout-outs to agriculture and issues important to Idaho’s farming and ranching community.  

“Agriculture remains the backbone of Idaho’s rural economy,” Little, a Republican rancher from Emmett, said Jan. 7 during his State of the State and budget address, which kicked off the 2019 Idaho Legislature.

He also noted that 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,” said Little, who pointed out that Idaho wheat yields increased 15 percent and set a record last year, barley yields were up 10 percent from the previous year and alfalfa hay yields increased 19 percent.

He also pointed out that Idaho’s dairy production has doubled in the past 16 years and that the state jumped Oregon in 2017 to become the No. 2 hop producing state in the nation.

“Idaho remains a heavily trade-dependent state, with around $2 billion in agricultural exports,” the governor said. “When markets are open, agriculture makes the most of those opportunities. When markets are disrupted, we feel it.”

Little said the profitability of Idaho’s farming and ranching industry “and its ability to compete nationally and internationally is dependent upon the time and cost of getting our products to consumers.”

“I look forward to working with you to increase rail access, address truck shortages and reduce the burdens of federal regulations,” he added.

Little, who served as lieutenant governor from 2009-2019, was raised on his family’s ranch in Emmett and has been active in the state’s agricultural industry his whole life.

Little’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget includes $8 million for a new Idaho State Department of Agriculture animal, dairy and plant pathology lab.

The laboratory conducts a significant amount of testing for the state’s farming and ranching industry and demand for testing services has increased substantially over the past two years.

“It has skyrocketed. We’re handling it fine but it’s taking everything we have,” said ISDA Chief of Operations Chanel Tewalt. “There has been a huge increase in workload.”

The current lab was built in 1965, has been refurbished numerous times over the years and sorely needs to be replaced, Tewalt said.

“Even aside from the increase in testing, the challenges in the lab are significant,” she said. “It’s old and we can not refurbish it any more than we already have.”

Little’s proposed budget also includes $200,000 in ongoing funding for the state’s Wolf Depredation Control Board, which also gets about $110,000 in funding annually from both the state’s livestock industry and sportsmen. The money is used to lethally control problem wolves.

The board currently gets $400,000 in state funding each year and some of Idaho’s cattle and farming groups want to keep the state’s annual contribution at that same amount.

During his State of the State address, Little also said Idaho must actively work to improve broadband access, which is a major issue in many rural communities. Adequate broadband connectivity is a must to ensure Idaho can adapt to the rapidly evolving digital world, he said.

“I will work with the legislature to ensure both rural and urban Idaho are connected and well-positioned to attract and create maximum success,” Little said.

The governor also addressed regulatory burdens, which is a major issue for many farmers and ranchers.

“I will issue another executive order requiring state agencies to revoke two regulations for every new regulation they want to implement,” he said. “This commitment to cutting red tape will ensure we are governing with the lightest possible hand.”

Little said water is the lifeblood of Idaho “and we’ve made great strides in protecting it.” He noted that more water was added to the important Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer last year than was removed.

“While this is an impressive accomplishment, this must be an ongoing effort,” he said.

The governor also gave a shout-out to the state’s nine rangeland fire protection associations, which help state and federal agencies fight range fires. More than 300 ranchers and farmers are now members of those RFPAs across southern Idaho.

“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,” he said. “I want to carry over this successful wildland firefighting model to Idaho’s forestland by expanding the initial attack capabilities of our loggers.”

Among the businesses Little singled out as examples of the state’s strong economy were BiologiQ, an Idaho Falls company that creates plastic from the excess starch produced during potato processing, and Woodgrain Millworks, a Fruitland-based company that operates sawmills and manufactures doors and windows.