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Franklin County is still heavily agricultural

PRESTON – Like their colleagues in other areas of Idaho, farmers and ranchers in Franklin County are still trying to recover from a severe drought that reduced farm production in much of the state last year.

“Drought hit us really hard this last year and we’re still seeing the effects of it. We really need some more precipitation,” says Franklin County Farm Bureau President Jason Fellows.

Recent rain and snow storms have helped but a lot more is needed before farmers and ranchers in this southeast Idaho county can consider the drought over, he says.  

A good snowpack year is desperately needed, adds Fellows, a cattle rancher near Preston who also grows forage crops such as alfalfa and corn.

“The snowpack is what feeds our reservoirs and our reservoirs are what keep us farming,” he says. “We need to pack those canyons full of snow this winter.”

Franklin County is a relatively small county, with a population of about 14,200, but there is still a good amount of farming and ranching going on here.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, $83 million worth of farm commodities were sold in the county during the 2017 census year.

A big chunk of the total farm-gate revenue generated in the county comes from cattle and dairy, while hay, wheat, barley, safflower and corn for silage are also big parts of the Franklin County agricultural portfolio.

“In our community, we’re pretty diverse when it comes to agriculture,” Fellows says.

While Franklin County is still heavily agricultural – Fellows estimates 86 percent of the jobs in the county would be gone if agriculture suddenly disappeared – its farming base is starting to feel the effects of rapid growth and development.

A boom in building is occurring as an influx of people from just across the border in Utah flock to the county, Fellows says.

“People like this little corner of Idaho just like they like most of Idaho and we’ve seen a … housing boom occurring,” he says. “People are moving into our area and taking some of the agricultural land.”

The Franklin County Farm Bureau board of directors is just starting to focus on efforts to educate the newcomers about the various farm-related issues in the community but a lot more needs to be done, says Lance Zollinger, chairman of the FCFB’s Promotion and Education Committee.

“As a board, we’re at the tip of the iceberg as far as what we want to do to reach out to these newcomers and teach them about agriculture,” says Zollinger, who grows hay. “We have got to be out in front of these people more.”

One area where the local P&E committee is already focusing a lot of its efforts on is letting high school students involved with FFA know more about Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, which is open to producers between the ages of 18 and 35.

Zollinger was an FFA state officer but says he didn’t really understand Farm Bureau’s YF&R program until he was 36.

One of the goals of the Franklin County Farm Bureau P&E committee, he says, is to let FFA members and other youth involved with agriculture know that a “natural next step for them can be to be part of Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program. We want young people to feel it’s natural to jump right into the YF&R piece of Farm Bureau.”

Fellows says another main goal of the FCFB organization is to let everyone in the county know that Farm Bureau can be a valuable source of information and ally for them on a host of natural resource issues, including herd districts and the upcoming Bear River adjudication process.

“We want them to come to us and we would like to educate them on agricultural issues such as the adjudication,” he says. “We really hope people realize they can come to Farm Bureau when they have an issue and we’re their advocate….”

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 787 farms in Franklin County during the 2017 census year and 228,383 total land in farms, including cropland and pastureland.

The average size of a farm in the county was 290 acres.

The census shows there were 50,308 acres of forage crops grown in Franklin County in 2017, 17,560 acres of wheat, 6,246 acres of safflower, 5,870 acres of barley and 5,189 acres of corn for silage.