|Traditions that come with Thanksgiving pass from generation to generation. Most families choose the customary turkey with all the trimmings, some on the other hand, choose a nice prime rib or other protein. But what does not differ is the thanks we give to our farmers and ranchers who put food on our table.
As we sit around our family dinner tables this week, stuffed full and thankful for our abundant blessings, we will talk about topics that matter to our families and our communities. Our family’s roots are deeply Idaho and conversations often center on how to preserve and protect our agricultural base-or our legacy. So, let’s put our phones in a basket-this could be a lengthy conversation.
Idaho’ Department of Labor predicts that Idaho’s population will reach 2.1 million by 2031. Many that flee to Idaho are political refugees who seek to enjoy our genuinely conservative values, but do they understand our rural roots? Idaho is the least regulated state in America so I can understand the draw. In my neck of the woods, we see letters from attorneys when manure drops on the road or aerial applicators apply fertilizer and chemicals to our farm fields, and let’s talk about when might have to fire up the baler at 2 a.m. in the morning. Idaho is a right-to-farm state.
No one really tracks how many in the policy making community are actively engaged in agriculture. Oh wait, we aren’t supposed to talk politics at the dinner table, so please forgive me-just this once. Some polling shows that farmers and ranchers are among the most trusted. In Idaho, Governor Little and Lt. Gov. Bedke both have a rich agricultural history in Idaho and Idaho politics.
Some quick back of the napkins analysis shows a significant and steady decline in the number of legislators in Idaho that either are-or have been-actively engaged in the agricultural industry. Sean Ellis from the Idaho Farm Bureau penned an article in 2017 that said, “At least 25 of the state’s 105 representatives and senators are current or retired farmers or ranchers actively engaged in agribusiness, according to a list compiled by the Food Producers of Idaho (FPI) and reviewed by the Capital Press.” My napkin analysis would say today’s legislative body now has 18 of the 105, or 17%. That’s down from the 24% the legislative body had just over 6 years ago and a trend that concerns me. For reference though, our neighboring states are much lower, most at-ranch math-less than ten percent.
With Idaho’s constitution bound at 35 legislative districts, our rural communities will continue to be squeezed by population centers, much like we’ve seen happen in Oregon and Washington. Keep that in mind.
Idaho’s per capita farm income in 2022 was $5,794 per USAD up from $4,392 in 2021. For simplicity purposes, that means that Idaho’s farmers and ranchers produced $5,794 worth of agricultural revenue for every Idahoan. Montana was a distant second at $3,939 and California came in at $1,434. Idaho Farm Bureau President Bryan Searle said,“That number is astounding and proves how important agriculture is to Idaho’s economy.”Idaho boasts the fifth largest agricultural base in the nation with over $2.6 billion of Idaho agricultural products sold worldwide. Additionally, an American Farmland Trust analysis showed Idaho lost 69,000 acres of farm and rangeland from 2001-2016 and that trend appears to be continuing. Responsible growth with a plan of action to protect Idaho’s agriculture and water is a must. We are Idaho agriculture and should be extremely careful of who we elect to serve in the policy making arena, both in Idaho and in Washington D.C.Each year Food Producers of Idaho awards legislators committed to Idaho agriculture an Idaho Ag All-Star award. Food Producers of Idaho, under the leadership of then farmer and former Governor Phil Batt, represents over 40 farm and commodity organizations and agribusinesses. In the Magic Valley this year, all but the two Democrats and one Republican Senator from the Magic Valley earned that prestigious award. Ask yourself, is agriculture important to the Magic Valley and Idaho. I’d say it sure is. I would also ask if your elected representative working to preserve and protect it? If not, I’d look to find a candidate who cares about Idaho agriculture and her future. As founding Father Thomas Jefferson said, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”Agriculture matters to me and my family, does it matter to you?
Ok, you can have your cell phones back.
From our table to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.
– Laurie Lickley
Idaho Senate Candidate LD 26
Rancher and 2019-2022 Idaho Ag- All Star