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Power County has small population but lots of farming

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

AMERICAN FALLS – With fewer than 8,000 people, Power County is one of Idaho’s smallest counties when it comes to population.

But it ranks as one of the state’s top counties when it comes to total value of agricultural production.

People just passing through the county on the interstate might have no clue it produces so much food, said Power County Farm Bureau President Evan Call.

“Yet we produce a lot of the food and agricultural crops this state and country uses,” said Call, who grows potatoes, sugar beets and wheat on 1,500 acres.

According to USDA data, farmers and ranchers in Power County brought in $254 million in farm-gate revenue in 2019, which placed Power as the state’s No. 11 county in that category.

When it comes to just crop production, Power County ranks No. 5 in the state.

It ranks No. 33 out of 44 counties in Idaho in population.

“Power County is a small county in population but we’re big when it comes to the total value of agricultural crops we produce,” said Seagull Bay Dairy owner Greg Andersen, whose operation also grows 300 acres of hay and corn.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 486,377 acres of land in farming in the county during the 2017 census year.

A lot of agricultural production in the county just kind of quietly happens but the industry is the driving force in the local economy, said Rockland farmer Jamie Kress, who grows wheat, safflower, canola, mustard, dry peas and chickpeas.

“Agriculture is clearly a major boon to the county’s economy,” she said.

According to the ag census, there 115,990 acres of wheat grown in Power County, 43,848 acres of potatoes, 15,234 acres of sugar beets and 11,643 acres of corn.

The state’s most iconic crop – potatoes – is well represented in Power County, which ranks No. 2 in spud production behind Bingham County.

The average size of farm in Power County was 1,649 acres, much larger than the statewide average of 468 acres.

“There are a lot of potatoes grown here and there are a lot of big farms in this county,” said Andersen.

Irrigation is the driving force behind the bulk of agricultural production that occurs in the county but there are also a good number of dryland farms, which rely only on precipitation.

Most of those dryland farms are located in the Rockland and Arbon valleys.

“Dryland farming is definitely part science and part art,” said Kress, one of the county’s dryland farmers. “On the one hand, there are no bills to pay for pumping water and taking care of pivots and wheel lines. On the other hand, not knowing when your next rain event will be is very difficult.”

“All your decisions factor around, how do you maintain soil moisture?” Kress said. “Everything you do is designed to hold moisture in the soil for as long as you can.”

It’s almost impossible to out-think the weather, she added. “Everything you do, you kind of have to go by your gut to a certain degree. That’s tricky.”

One of the main things the Power County Farm Bureau organization focuses on is educating youth about the agriculture industry, said Andersen. Even in a rural county like Power, that’s still very important, he added.

“The youth are eager to learn,” said Andersen, a member of the PCFB board of directors. “Even in a rural area like this, let’s make sure they don’t grow up here without knowing the truth about agriculture.”

“We want to speak to the youth in our community and help them understand more about the agriculture that’s happening all around them,” said Kress, who is also a member of the PCFB board.

The county Farm Bureau also provides scholarships to high school seniors and mini-grants to schools to help with their needs when it comes to agricultural education.

“We’re very excited about being more involved in the scholarship program,” Kress said. “That’s another way we want to show the community we value education.”

Another major focus of the local Farm Bureau is giving back to people in the community and letting them know the organization cares, Call said.

“That’s a huge focus of the board right now,” he said. “We want people in the county to know we’re an organization that’s giving something back.”