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Governor talks with Farm Bureau about agriculture

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

EMMETT – Gov. Brad Little’s effort to simplify and reduce Idaho rules and regulations could have a big impact on the state’s agricultural industry.

Like other state agencies, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture is significantly reducing its rules and regulations, Little told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Aug. 2 during a wide-ranging interview at his ranch and farm near Emmett.

During the 40-minute interview, Little also answered questions about hemp, wolves, the use of technology in agriculture, trade disputes, transportation and education.

Little’s goal is to cut or simplify 55-60 percent of all of Idaho’s rules.

According to the governor, this will reduce regulatory burdens on Idaho citizens and businesses, make the state’s regulations easier for the public to understand and navigate, and promote economic opportunities by governing with the lightest possible hand.

“The whole rules process is going to be a lot better,” said Little, Idaho’s 33rd governor and a rancher and farmer. “The big deal on all the rules is that for the regular guy, he’s going to be able to read them easier and they’re going to be easier to find.”

When it comes to state agencies’ efforts to simplify or reduce their rules, “I think the (ISDA) might be one of the top performers,” he added. “I think the department of agriculture may get rid of more rules or simplify … more rules than any other agency. It’s going to be easier in all these different areas to do what you have to do to comply with the law.”

Little said he has received a lot of feedback on his effort to reduce rules and regulations, most of it positive.

“They like my emphasis on significantly cutting rules and regulations,” he said.

A native of Emmett, Little, 65, was raised on his family sheep and cattle ranch and he has been involved in the state’s ranching and agricultural industry his entire life.

“I can remember shearing sheep about four miles from where we’re standing right now,” the governor said, explaining that his earlier memories revolve around ranching.

The governor’s thoughts during the interview quickly turned to the current condition of agriculture in Idaho and challenges and opportunities the industry faces.

He said the current trade disputes with some of the nation’s largest agricultural trading partners is one of the biggest challenges Idaho and U.S. farmers currently face.

He said getting the revamped NAFTA deal ratified and in effect would go a long way toward helping provide needed certainty for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

The proposed new NAFTA, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, was announced last year but still needs to be ratified by Congress.

Little said Idaho’s congressional delegation solidly supports USMCA. Canada and Mexico are the top two destinations for Idaho agricultural exports.

“I just think that’s a huge priority for agriculture,” Little said. “Our congressional delegation is all in but all of our farming and ranching friends need to reach out to their members in other states to put pressure on (Congress) to have a vote on USMCA. We need the stability. We need to know what our rules are with our biggest trading partners.”

Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states and the governor said that educating newcomers about agriculture’s importance to the state’s economy is an ongoing challenge. According to a University of Idaho study, agriculture is the top sector of the state’s economy.

Little said economic development to ensure there are enough jobs for Idahoans, particularly in rural parts of the state, is one of his top priorities.

“I don’t want to export our children out of Idaho. We need to have jobs” for them, he said.

Making sure Idaho’s children are well-educated and trained is critical to preparing them for a job market that is quickly being transformed by technology, Little said. That means continuing to invest in education, he added.

“The most important thing we do – it’s in our constitution, it’s our moral obligation – is educate our kids,” Little said. “We have to have opportunities for them to go onto college if they want to do that or have a pathway to career technical (training).”

Adding value to the farm products produced in Idaho is a top priority for the state’s agricultural community because Idaho is challenged geographically, Little said.

“It’s hard to get our commodities elsewhere so it’s very important to me that we add as much value as we can to the commodities we produce here,” he said.

Every time value is added to a commodity produced in Idaho, Little said, “it creates job opportunities and means that farmers … are closer to the ultimate consumer because if we can haul them the finished product and save all the money in transportation costs and create all that money here, that is a benefit to the farmers.”

To bring Idaho farm products closer to the consumer, Little said, it’s important to continue to invest in the state’s transportation infrastructure, which includes roads and bridges, rail and the Port of Lewiston.

“From an agricultural standpoint, a good (transportation system) is important to moving farmland closer to the ultimate consumers,” he said. “We produce a lot of commodities in Idaho and we don’t consume very much of them in Idaho, so we have to be able to move them out of here. Transportation is critical in Idaho.”

Little also said that the effort to marry the state’s agriculture and technology sectors, started in 2015 by former Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer, is still alive and ag innovation is taking place all over the state’s farming and ranching sectors.

“Actually, it’s on steroids,” he said of the so-called ag-tech movement that Sayer pushed. “The people that survive in this business are people that work hard and innovate.”

When it comes to hemp production, Little said he has no problem with growing and processing that commodity in Idaho as long as it’s not used as a way to camouflage marijuana.

The 2018 Farm Bill, which went into effect last December, for the first time legalizes the commercial growing and processing of hemp in the United States. But the act leaves it up to each state to adopt a policy on hemp and the Idaho Legislature this year failed to enact legislation addressing hemp production.

Idaho is now one of three states with a blanket ban on hemp and Gem State supporters of that commodity say the state’s farmers will fall further behind the hemp market the longer Idaho fails to adopt a hemp policy.

“We will have a policy on hemp in Idaho,” Little said. “I have no issues with hemp as long as it’s not camouflage for recreational marijuana.”

Little also addressed the hot-topic issue of wolves and was asked about his decision during his first year in office to recommend $200,000 in state funding for the Idaho Wolf Control Board, which is tasked with funding lethal control of problem wolves.

Since the board was created in 2014, it has received $400,000 in state funds annually, as well as $110,000 annually from the state’s livestock industry and $110,000 from Idaho sportsmen.

This year was the first time the board didn’t receive $400,000 in state funding.

Little said he recommended $200,000 for the wolf board in fiscal year 2020 because the board had built up a surplus and he wanted that money to be used first before recommending additional funding.

“They weren’t spending all the money they had,” Little said. “There’s no use in a state agency building up a big surplus. If we are going to amass a war chest, it ought to be for the whole state of Idaho.”

He also said people don’t need to worry about the board not receiving enough state funding in the future. “They’ll have the resources they need,” he said.

Little told IFBF members earlier this year not to worry about where he stands on wolves because he fully understands the impact they are having on livestock and wildlife. 

“Fish and game is doing a pretty good job of managing (wolves) but believe me, I talk to ranchers all over the state … and there are areas where they are causing huge problems,” he said during the Aug. 2 interview.

He also said that in some areas of the state, wolves are pushing wildlife down onto farms and ranches, causing those producers to suffer significant depredation losses.

Wrapping up the interview, Little was asked to share some words of wisdom from his late father, David Little, who served in the Idaho Senate.

He said his father shared quite a few nuggets of wisdom.

“One of them was, ‘If you’re going to spend the public’s money, you have to spend it like you’re spending your own,’” Little said.

Another one: “Doing things in the public forum because you’re mad at somebody is bad policy. You have to get over that. He had a pretty good reputation for getting along with everybody and I learned a lot from that.”