Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould spoke Friday to 80 City Club and community members about the economic effects of Idaho’s agriculture.
Gould, who was appointed director of agriculture in 2007 by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter following 16 years in the Idaho House of Representatives, focused her presentation on how agriculture builds Idaho’s economy and how it amplifies the state’s values.
“Idaho ag matters to everyone in every corner of the state,” Gould said. “Ag generates more sales in Idaho than any other industry.”
Gould said agriculture makes up 20 percent of all sales in Idaho, accounts for at least 14 percent of all jobs in the state and makes up 16 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
“Without Idaho’s farmers and ranchers doing what they do best, this state would look remarkably different and, I would suggest, dramatically worse,” Gould said.
Gould said agriculture is character building and teaches the importance of hard work in Idaho’s communities.
“We have great communities in this state, and that’s something we can all be proud of,” she said.
A Q&A session followed the presentation and multiple audience members asked questions regarding how any immigration reform under the Trump administration would affect Idaho’s agriculture.
Gould said she can’t quantify migrant workers’ contribution to the agricultural network, but that it is “huge.”
A recent Idaho Statesman article reported there are approximately 45,000 undocumented immigrants in Idaho. More than 1 in 3 in Idaho are farm workers, and their numbers constitute 43 percent of all farm workers in the state, the Statesman said, citing a Pew Research Center report.
Gould said Idaho relies heavily upon migrant workers who are willing to do hard jobs many people don’t want to do.
“We need (migrant workers) and they need us,” Gould said. “I’m nervous in what I’ve seen in the last couple weeks and I’m very nervous about our ag community.”
She said if migrant workers were deported or unable to continue to work on Idaho’s farms and ranches, it would be difficult to find people to replace them for any amount of money, and farmers would likely resort to machines to complete the work done by migrant agricultural workers.
“It’s not going to be human labor if we can’t get the (migrant) labor force,” Gould said.
Questions regarding immigration also were directed toward U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson , who was in attendance.
“(Immigration) is one of the priorities that Congress needs to face,” Simpson said.
• It was announced at the meeting that a memorial service for former Sen. John Hansen, R-Idaho Falls, who died in January, will take place March 11 at the Hilton Garden Inn.
“(Hansen) was there at the very beginning of the City Club creation here in Idaho Falls and he remains with us as an example of the mission of our city club,” said Mark S. Young, president of The City Club of Idaho Falls.