Idaho Farm Profits Up, Number Of Farms Down

By Adam Cotterell

The value of Idaho’s agriculture products went up more than two billion dollars in five years. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ag census (preliminary results) released Thursday. The USDA does this count every five years and this one covers 2012. The big increase in farm profits is the most eye catching thing. But Idaho mostly continues to follow trends that have defined its ag sector for decades.

Between 2007 and 2012 Idaho lost 535 farms. But the total amount of farm land went up and the average size of an Idaho farm increased by 20 acres. John Thompson with Idaho’s Farm Bureau says that’s a long term trend we won’t see change much.

“It’s long been said in the potato industry in Idaho that by the time it’s all been said and done all the potato growers in the state will be able to sit around one table. If you look back to 1976 there were 3,500 potato growers in Idaho, and today there’s less than 400.”

But Thompson says, as people become more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s produced there has also been an increase in very small farms. Thompson thinks the USDA is not counting all of those. “The way that USDA defines a farm is lose. There’s a lot of farms that don’t fall in those definitions so they don’t show up.”

The agriculture census shows that nearly two thirds of Idaho farmers are 55 or older. And only 6 percent are younger than 35. Thompson says the aging of Idaho’s farm population and the difficulty of getting young people into the industry are real challenges. But it’s not as bad as it seems. He points out the census only counts the principle operator and not children and grandchildren who work on a farm and will one day inherit it.
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