Updated: Jul 21
Idaho agriculture, along with the rest of the country, endured many negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than health care, agriculture may be the most important sector in a time of national illness.
What needs to be done to protect Idaho's Ag community from future health emergencies?
Idaho legislators are intent on finding out. They have introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 102, which would establish an interim committee to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Idaho’s agricultural economy.
The objective of the six-person committee is to make policy recommendations to protect Idaho’s agricultural sector from future pandemics and find remedies to the negative impacts of Covid-19. The cost to the Idaho taxpayers would be $15,000 to cover the travel and other committee expenses.
Undoubtedly, Idaho agriculturalists experienced some bumps and bruises over the last three years. Is it worth $15,000 from Idaho taxpayers to look at the effects of COVID-19?
Any farmer or ag-business worker participating in agriculture during 2020-2022 can easily speak to the business discomforts and challenges faced repetitively over this timeframe. Supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and cost run-ups were common, not just in Idaho but throughout the country. However, through it all the Idaho agricultural economy not only weathered the storm but grew.
Supply chain disruptions were immediate throughout Idaho agriculture. The closure of restaurants decreased the demand for many goods, like butter and onions. These two ingredients alone had a profound impact on Idaho dairy producers and onion growers. A sudden stop to butter and cream purchases created a glut in the milk market, plummeting prices received at the farm gate. Onions suffered excess supplies, with 2019’s harvest of onions rotting in storages with no one willing to buy and consume them. These two goods were only the start of the troubles.
Over the next two years, every producer felt supply chain disruptions, along with every industry in the world. Even consumers grappled with these supply chain issues, facing empty grocery shelves. Fertilizer and chemical inputs were often difficult to find. At one point hay producers were searching the region for baling twine in the middle of the summer!
Difficulties were compounded with the ability to find labor to plant, grow, and harvest crops. A pre-existing challenge was worsened by confusing and changing regulations that made it difficult to secure enough labor to accomplish necessary tasks.
Increasing the complexity of the pandemic, costs rose quickly, with diesel being the most notable.
Despite these challenges Idaho grew their on-farm cash receipts by 6% in 2020, to $8.5 billion. The agricultural industry added $10 billion (13%) to Idaho’s GDP and accounted for 1 out of 8 jobs in the state (123,000). Even with complaints of increased costs, data from 2020 shows that total expenses decreased by 2% and net farm income increased by 38%. This excludes any government support payment that was dispersed with COVID relief monies.
Two years later farm income has continued to grow with 2022 estimates at $11 billion, 29 percent higher than 2021 (also setting a new record). Expenses also set new records in 2022, at $8.9 billion (20 percent higher than 2021). Almost every area of expenses saw cost increases. Most farmers agree that 2022 brought about similar net incomes as normal years.
What information will the new committee be able to generate outside of already created resources? We'll have to find out. The most valuable part of the exercise may be the help in educating lawmakers about Agricultural issues.
The topic of COVID-19 and agriculture is frequently researched by public and private entities, and many resources are easily available online. Two resources include University of Idaho (U of I) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).