Producers had a solid year in 2017

Posted: December 29, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Bill Schaefer / for Farm & Ranch
Melanie Jensen, of Firth, and Sherelle Christensen, center, pulls debris from the conveyor belts Sept. 14 as Martin Cruz adjusts the belt speed at one of the Christensen Family Farms’ storage cellars.

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
Prospective buyers look on as cattle go through the Blackfoot Livestock Auction in Blackfoot recently. Auctions are just one of several ways cattle are marketed today.

Eastern Idaho farmers and ranchers had a solid 2017, even though it was lacking the record production of the previous year.


Once again, F&R was there at the Idaho Potato Conference and Ag Expo at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Idaho’s potatoes were confirmed as the state’s famous brand once again, and some speakers said the new President Donald Trump offered a mixed bag for farmers with the plans he announced during last year’s campaign and his early days in office.

Also at the Potato Conference, reports showed mixed progress toward overcoming the pale cyst nematode that first plagued eastern Idaho potato fields more than a decade ago. In December 2016 and January, nearly 700 acres were released from the PCN-regulated areas, though some fields remained under quarantine orders.

Idaho’s oldest rodeo, the War Bonnet Roundup, saddled up for the 106th time in August.

September’s 115th edition of the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot had as its theme, “Bigger is Better,” emphasizing its growth from eight to nine days.


President Trump’s tough talk on immigration worried dairy owners who rely largely on migrant labor to man their operations.

But some dairy owners, such as the Nelson dairy in Ririe, were finding technology could come in handy making up for the labor shortage.

Dairymen, like many farmers, are always trying something new. Kim Wolfley’s dairy cattle near Blackfoot are pasture-raised. They are turned out onto alfalfa fields and harvest the hay so Wolfley doesn’t have to. They also get a bit of corn in the barn, but the pasture is their dietary mainstay, Wolfley said.

Idaho dairymen didn’t confine their operations to the Gem State. Derek Whitesides, of Rupert, expanded his operation to Hawaii’s Big Island and is finding it thriving.

Beef cattle

During February’s Cattle Month, we took a look at how science and technology are helping ranchers breed better cattle. Ultrasounds and DNA testing are becoming the norm on cattle ranches.

Technology also has affected how beef are marketed. Gone are the days when the only way to sell was at the stockyards. Now, there are a variety of online and televised cattle markets.


Idaho remained the nation’s leading potato-producing state in 2017, but they all weren’t the usual commercial varieties grown in the usual ways. In May, we took a look at Jeff Bragg’s organic operation near Donnelly where he grows 23 different varieties of spuds.

In the middle of the growing season, farmers’ assessments were that despite a late start caused by a wet spring, the crop was expected to catch up and produce a healthy harvest.

Then, this fall, the annual harvest got underway, growers were cautiously optimistic that they’d see a rebound from several years of poor returns.


Anheuser-Busch, which holds the contracts for many eastern Idaho barley growers, announced early this year it planned to cut procurement by 15 to 25 percent, which could translate to up to a quarter of a farmer’s income. The cuts came after a couple of years of large harvests of top-quality barley, which flooded the market.

But as harvest got underway in August, growers appeared optimistic at the quality of their crop, although yields promised to be 10 to 15 percent below 2016.


The wheat crop, like barley, while a mainstay of eastern Idaho agriculture, was off a bit from the previous year. Yields were down a little, while quality was good. The lower yields in small grains were expected to balance out previously glutted markets.


Adults also continued to figure largely in young people’s lives, such as a group of Hereford breeders who banded together to help 18-year-old Chance Smith get a start in the business. The breeders said it was their goal to bring the next generation into ranching.

There was also Rigby’s Ryan Hawkins who started raising pigs at age 11 and is now hoping his herd of 32 pigs will help pay his way to college.

Tasha Smith, of Blackfoot, showed her stuff as she told of picking a less-than-traditional career for a woman of being a welding inspector. Her experience in welding class at Blackfoot High School has put her well on the way to her career goal.

Saydee Longhurst, of Shelley, blazed a trail as the youngest to attend the first-ever FarmHer Conference on women in agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa.

Allie Ward, of Pocatello, was crowned Miss War Bonnet Roundup for 2017. Her court included Princess Ada Poulter, of Tremonton, Utah, and Teen Queen Jenni Nelson, of Arimo. The three presided over last summer’s War Bonnet Roundup. However, the War Bonnet royalty contest director, Kassi Jones, said that behind-the-scenes “mayhem” meant this year’s contest would be the last and another method will be worked out to select the War Bonnet court.


We took a look at Steven Wright’s Belgian draft horses as they were used to skid felled trees from the woods on the Idaho-Wyoming state line.

We also featured some of eastern Idaho’s top stallions standing for stud in our March Stallion Issue.

Various livestock

While beef cattle are second only to dairy cattle among Idaho’s agricultural products, other livestock are popular as well. In March, F&R visited with Logan Pearce, of Ririe, who raises Black Wattle pigs, a heritage breed not so suitable to factory-style farming but just right for backyard breeders. Shrimp may not seem quite like livestock, but according to the USDA they are. A couple of Challis men have made a success of raising Pacific White Prawns at their operation, which also produces tilapia and sea bass for restaurants in the region.

Various crops

As the growing season got underway, some growers were trying crops that were new to them, such as triticale, a crossbreed of wheat and rye. Some found it to be a quality feed for dairy cattle, who seemed to like it.


Last winter’s heavy snowpack left little for irrigators to worry about this year. Indeed, the soil moisture remained fairly high all during the growing season, reducing demand for irrigation water.

Then, this fall, eastern Idaho got an early start on the snowpack in the high country and the reservoirs never did drop to very low levels. Water managers are predicting another La Niña for the winter we’re in now that will just add to those reservoir levels. The only real concern is if there may be too much runoff in the spring.

Technology was helping irrigators, such as the WET Stake irrigation system developed by Prescott Farms Innovations that helped farmers save water by remotely telling them when their crops have had enough water.


Area halls of fame continued to honor those involved in agriculture and with horses. In March, Garn Theobald, Albert Wada, Wilder Hatch, Bob Huskinson and David McFarland were inducted into the Eastern Idaho Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Then, in April, the Eastern Idaho Horseman Hall of Fame inducted Robert Lee Pister, Duane “Doc” Jones, Reed W. Larsen, Grant Weeks, Tim Munns and Terrell and Jill Lufkin. The Horseman Hall of Fame also acknowledged the loss of two members who had died recently, Elwood G. Wilker, of Grace, and Bill Langley, of Blackfoot.

There was also a look at individual farming operations that have been the mainstay of eastern Idaho agriculture, such as the Just/Reid Ranch that has been going strong in the Presto area east of Firth since 1870.

Eastern Idahoans like trying the unusual, such as Richard and Anita Freeman, of Arco, who have turned old school buses into greenhouses.

Then there was the Larsen Hay Terminal, a Dubois-area hay producer with a Florida facility that came to the aid of Texas ranchers in need of cattle feed after Hurricane Harvey.

All in all, the people, livestock and crops together make eastern Idaho what it is.