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Payette County is small in size but big in agriculture

PAYETTE – Payette County is Idaho’s smallest county in size but ranks in the top third of counties statewide when it comes to total value of agricultural production.

The county is very diverse in terms of agricultural production and the good climate, coupled with a reliable irrigation supply, makes Payette County a great place to grow a wide variety of crops, says New Plymouth farmer Mike Shoemaker, who raises Angus beef cattle and grows alfalfa hay, corn and pasture.

He has also grown seed beans, wheat, barley, teff seed and cannery corn in the past.


“We can pretty much grow anything here that can be grown in Idaho,” says Shoemaker, president of Payette County Farm Bureau.

He says this is “made possible by an affordable, adequate irrigation water supply and growing season that allows producers to raise whatever crops are profitable in the region.”

With normally mild winters, it is also a desirable place to raise livestock, Shoemaker adds.

Several large operations summer their beef cattle in the upper country of Idaho or Oregon and winter in Payette County, and dairy operators like the area because of the availability of feed, he says.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were almost 19,000 acres of hay and other forage crops grown in Payette County during 2017, 7,000 acres of wheat, more than 11,800 acres of corn for silage and grain, and 4,780 acres of vegetables.

There were also more than 57,000 cattle and calves in the county, which ranks No. 2 in the state in commercial fruit production and No. 7 in poultry and eggs.

“We have a good, reliable water supply in the county that is consistent from year to year and it’s reasonably priced,” says New Plymouth farmer Galen Lee, a member of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors. “The climate here is great for growing crops.”

“Agriculture is still a bright spot in the county and we hope that consumers who may be stuck behind a tractor driving down the road realize that’s what’s feeding them,” Lee says. “We hope they appreciate everything that farmers do for them.”

According to the ag census, there were 640 total farms and 162,600 acres of land in farms in Payette County in 2017. The total market value of agricultural products sold by the county’s ranchers and farmers that year was $167 million.

That makes agriculture a major part of the economy of Payette County, which has a population of just over 25,000.

There were a lot of very small farms in the county in 2017 – 213 farms were 1 to 9 acres in size and 237 were 10-49 acres in size – but there were also plenty of bigger farms there as well: 30 were from 500-999 acres in size and 20 were more than 1,000 acres in size.

Ninety-eight percent of the farms in Payette County are family farms, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Seven percent of the county’s farms and ranches sell directly to consumers.

Payette County Farm Bureau members do a variety of things to support the local community, including supporting youth at the county fair fat stock sale, co-sponsoring rodeo events and providing scholarships.

PCFB also encourages community participation at its annual banquet and its last banquet in 2020 was attended by all three area state legislators and three county commissioners.

Shoemaker says PCFB is constantly looking for ways to get young farmers and ranchers more involved in Idaho Farm Bureau Federation. That includes paying the costs for people to attend IFBF’s Young Farmers and Ranchers events.

Lee says PCFB members keep in constant contact with elected officials, planning and zoning folks and others to make sure farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns are being addressed.

“Payette County Farm Bureau is the voice of agriculture in Payette County, just like Idaho Farm Bureau Federation is the voice of agriculture in Idaho,” he says. “We make sure the farmers’ voice is heard in Payette County.”