Thanks to Farmers and Ranchers for Delicious Food

The Importance of Agriculture to the Economy

A. Scott Anderson Sep 12, 2019

One of the things I love about late summer and fall is biting into a fresh cob of corn, a plate of barbecued ribs, a juicy slice of cantaloupe, a luscious peach or a vine-ripened tomato purchased at a nearby farmer’s market.

Today, family farmer entrepreneurs across Idaho, Utah and Wyoming supply us — and the rest of the world — with healthy, fresh, locally-grown produce and dozens of other farm products.

This delicious food reminds me of how important farmers and ranchers and the agricultural industry are to the economies of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. Our ag industry has a global reach. For example, an article in Idaho Politics Weekly noted that Southern Idaho dairy products are exported to Asia, while barley goes to Mexico as brewery malt. (Idaho, by the way, is the U.S. leader in barley production.)

Further, pelletized alfalfa hay is shipped worldwide for livestock feed. Beef cattle go to Canadian stockyards. Idaho milk byproducts, known as nutritionals, can be found in dozens of health and industrial compounds worldwide, while frozen Idaho potatoes are exported to outlets all over the world. In fact, “You can buy an order of Idaho fries from Iceland to Hong Kong,” the article noted.

A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank President and CEO

Meanwhile, China, Japan and Mexico are big importers of Utah agricultural products, including a variety of livestock goods. Utah’s alfalfa destinations reach from the Middle East to Asia. And, according to a report by the Utah Economic Council, the United Kingdom and South Korea are importers of Utah-grown fish and other marine products.

Wyoming’s famous cowboys provide beef, wool and lamb products to consumers across the country and the world.

Agri-business is big business. In 2017, the ag industry in Idaho accounted for $26.4 billion in sales, or 18% of Idaho’s total economic output. What’s more, this industry supported 123,100 Idaho jobs and contributed $9.6 billion in additional economic value.

The Utah agriculture industry is also significant, accounting for more than $21 billion in total economic output and generating $3.5 billion in yearly income. The agriculture processing and production sectors directly employ about 37,320 people in full- or part-time positions, and the multiplier effect accounts for about 40,000 more jobs.

We typically think of farm jobs as a male domain, but that’s not reality. I was pleasantly surprised earlier this year to read in a Census of Agriculture report by the USDA, that women run one-third of the farms in Idaho. In fact, more than 10,000 women hold top leadership positions on farms and ranches across the Gem State, from the chief financial officer of one of the largest potato farms to owning and operating century-old orchards. In 2012, only 13,043 women worked in farming and ranching in Idaho. Now, more than 10,000 women are in top leadership roles in this industry, which is truly exciting. In Utah, more than 8,000 women are involved in farming and comprise 29% of all Utah farmers, according to the USDA.

When you bite into a tart cherry from Utah, an Idaho French fry or a tenderloin steak from Wyoming, you likely don’t think of the effort required to bring that food to your table. But farming and ranching can be a tough way to make a living. It is difficult to get a start in some areas of the ag industry — especially if the farmer/entrepreneur must buy farmland and acquire equipment.

I admire our farmers and ranchers for their perseverance and hard work despite challenges beyond their control, such as trade wars, uncooperative weather and challenging regulations.

Next time you grill that steak, butter that bread, put granola on your yogurt or bite into some locally grown produce, give thanks to the ag industry.

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