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Minidoka County is king when it comes to sugar beets

RUPERT – When it comes to sugar beet production, Minidoka County is the big dog in Idaho.  

No big shocker there. The county is home to the nation’s top producing sugar beet factory, which is located in Paul.

“Beets are a big deal in this area,” says Heyburn farmer Cloy Jones. “There are more sugar beets grown in Minidoka than any county in the state.”

But it could come as a surprise to many people involved in the state’s farming industry to learn that Minidoka is also the state’s top county in terms of total sheep.

In fact, the county ranks No. 4 in the United States in that category, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

“We’ve been one of the top sheep-producing counties for a long time,” says Larry Johnson, who owns a cow-calf operation in Paul and also grows hay, vegetable seed, seed oats and 2 acres of strawberries.

In fact, a lot of ag commodities are produced in Minidoka County, which ranks No. 3 in Idaho in terms of total farm-gate receipts and No. 8 in total farm revenue when livestock is included.

According to the 2017 census, the county’s farmers and ranchers brought in $354 million in farm-gate receipts during the 2017 census year.

According to the ag census, there were 50,351 acres of sugar beets grown in the county in 2017, 48,697 acres of forage crops, including hay, 47,296 acres of barley, 31,969 acres of wheat and 29,174 acres of vegetables, including potatoes.

The county also had 103,660 sheep and lambs, 42,141 cattle and calves, 783 goats, 354 broilers and other meat-type chickens and even a few dozen turkeys.

The county’s dairy farmers brought in $64 million in farm-gate revenue in 2017, making Minidoka the state’s ninth largest milk-producing county.

“We can grow almost anything here and we do,” says Johnson, who serves as the Minidoka County Farm Bureau president.

But sugar beets are king in Minidoka County and the Amalgamated Sugar Co. processing facility in Paul processes about 18,000 tons a day at full capacity, according to Brad Griff, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.

“No doubt about it, Minidoka County is a big sugar beet county,” he says. “They are the big dog.”

Agriculture itself is big in the county and underpins its economy and way of life, says LaNae Nalder, who raises cattle on irrigated pasture near Rupert.

Minidoka County is home to several potato processing companies, several cheese processing companies and a lot of other big agribusinesses, she says.

When it comes to economic activity, everything of significance in the county “all comes from ag commodities,” Nalder says. “Agriculture is the lifeblood of the county. Minidoka County agriculture is very well diversified and successful.”

The Minidoka County Farm Bureau spends a lot of its money and resources supporting the community, in particular its FFA and 4-H programs, says Nalder, a member of MCFB’s promotion and education committee.

“We do a lot of support work in our community with youth education programs,” she says. “There is a very good relationship between our board and the FFA programs right now and we put a lot of focus and money there.”

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 620 farms in Minidoka County in 2017 and 267,567 total acres of land in farms.

The average sized farm in the county was 432 acres, just under the statewide average of 468 acres. But the average farm in the county brought in $572,000 in total farm-gate receipts during 2017, well above the statewide average of $303,000.