Skip to main content

Counties with most cows have highest farmland rental rates

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – USDA data shows that the Idaho counties with the most cows also have the highest average rental rates for cropland.

For example, there were 330,000 head of cattle and calves in Gooding County this year, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That ranked Gooding as the state’s top county for total cows.

Gooding also ranks No. 1 this year in the average cost to rent farm ground, at $390 an acre, according to NASS.

Most of the state’s counties with the most cows and highest average ag land rental costs are in Idaho’s Magic Valley area.

Robert Morrison, an independent ag land appraiser based in eastern Idaho, said it makes sense that the counties with the most cows also have the highest cash rent expenses for farm ground.

“Most of the cows are in the Magic Valley and you can raise more crops down there” because of the climate and ample irrigation, he said. “Those cows have to be fed. As a result, you have a lot of feed crops like corn silage and hay, as well as other very profitable crops like potatoes and sugar beets.”

As a result, he added, “Most of your higher ag land rents are going to be down in that area of the state. There’s no question the dairy people have really had an impact in that part of the world.”

Morrison said the same factors – relatively temperate winters, good growing conditions and irrigation – that make southcentral Idaho a great place to grow crops also make it a great place to raise cows.

“When you’re talking cows, cows don’t like lots of cold weather; they don’t put on a lot of weight when it’s 20 below zero,” he said. “In the Magic Valley, they don’t get those long, extreme cold weather days like we do here in east Idaho.”

Idaho Dairymen’s Association Executive Director Rick Naerebout said “it’s the climate and availability of forages” that makes southcentral Idaho a great area to raise cows.

Five of the top six counties in Idaho when it comes to average cash rent expense for cropland are located in the Magic Valley: Gooding, Cassia ($356 an acre), Minidoka ($331), Jerome ($311) and Twin Falls ($301).

The lone exception is Elmore County ($335), which is located in southwestern Idaho but borders Gooding and Twin Falls counties.

When it comes to total number of cows, Gooding ranks No. 1, followed by Cassia (295,000 cows), Jerome (275,000), Twin Falls (210,000) and Elmore (180,000).

Not surprisingly given those numbers, when it comes to total farm-gate revenue, Cassia ($1 billion), Gooding ($921 million), Twin Falls ($749 million) and Jerome ($733 million) are Idaho’s top counties, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data.