Dairy

How Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Threatens The Dairy Boom In Idaho

Sep 20, 2017
Joy Pruitt / The Center for Public Integrity

There’s a cultural and economic collision occurring in southern Idaho. On one side, the anti-immigrant sentiment has expanded, fueled by conservative talk radio and the rhetoric of the Trump administration. On the other side, the dairy industry – long quiet – is speaking out about their reliance on a foreign-born labor force. And the prospect of a new contract for the county jail has both sides agitated.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Thirty-seven-year-old Ruperto Vazquez-Carrera drowned in a manure pond in February 2016. The horrific death at Sunrise Organic Dairy in Jerome – followed by another seven months later near Idaho Falls – prompted federal investigations.


Matt Guilhem / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho may be synonymous with potatoes, but the state is also one of the largest dairy producers in the country. Like much of the agriculture sector, a majority of the labor at dairies comes from foreign-born workers.

In southern Idaho, cows’ hooves clack gently as they stand in the milking parlor of a small dairy. Taking the noise of the automated milkers in stride, the cows are calm as they’re milked in 10 minute sessions. Monitoring the animals, overseeing the machinery and wrangling the cows in and out of the milking parlor is Pedro.

Kay Ledbetter / AgriLife

A lawsuit filed in district court in Boise earlier this month pits an Idaho dairy against former employees from Mexico. 

Six veterinarians are suing Funk Dairy southeast of Twin Falls for human trafficking and breach of contract, among other charges. The vets are from Mexico, and say they were hired to work at the dairy in 2014 under false pretenses.

CompassioninWorldFarming / Flickr

Idaho’s dairy industry will be watching the new Trump administration’s trade policy, as one of the state’s biggest sectors is bracing for a flat year.

The president of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association told an agriculture conference last month that any increase in Idaho’s milk production would be exported abroad.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that by November of this year, dairy exports will be 8.9 billion pounds – that’s slightly higher than last November’s 8.7 billion pounds.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Earlier in this series, we told you about the importance of ground water in Idaho. The state relies on underground aquifers and private wells to quench the thirst of 90-95 percent of the population.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

In 2014, Idaho ag exports hit a record value of more than $1 billion. Levels like that now seems like a distant memory.

CompassioninWorldFarming / Flickr

Idaho was the third-highest milk producing state last year, behind California and Wisconsin.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Idaho cows produced about 13.9 billion pounds of milk last year.

The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that's an increase from 13.4 billion pounds in 2013. The increase helped Idaho take the No. 3 milk producing spot back from New York.

California is the top producer with more than 42 billion pounds of milk, and Wisconsin comes in second with more than 27 billion pounds.

MHall209 / Flickr Creative Commons

Food manufacturers and restaurants are taking the dairy industry by the horns on an animal welfare issue that bothers activists but is little known to consumers.

Horned calves are common in dairy herds and farms routinely remove the horn buds by burning or gouging them out before horns develop. Horns are hazardous because unruly cows can gore farm workers or other animals.

General Mills, Nestle, Denny's are among companies pushing increased breeding of cows born without horns — called polled cattle.

MHall209 / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho's $2.4 billion dairy industry is no longer at risk of losing its operating permits if caught illegally dumping waste into streams and waterways.

The Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee approved new rules Tuesday that would no longer allow the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to revoke a dairy facility's permit if caught illegally discharging wastewater or sewage. Instead, dairies would face a fine up to $10,000.

The rules are in compliance of a law that Idaho Republican lawmakers passed in 2014.

UGA College of Ag / Flickr

Idaho dairy producers are touting a new study that again shows the substantial role the dairy industry plays in the state’s economy. 

CompassioninWorldFarming / Flickr

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says dairy farmers can begin signing up Sept. 2 for a new program that replaces old subsidies.

The program is a kind of insurance that pays farmers when the difference between milk prices and feed prices shrink to a certain level. It replaces a program that paid farmers when milk prices sank too low.

Dairy farmers have struggled in recent years even with good milk prices. Feed costs have risen because of demand for corn from the ethanol industry and recent droughts.

MHall209 / Flickr Creative Commons

 This post was updated at 11:20 a.m. Aug. 27, 2014.

The Idaho dairy industry group that sent a letter to its members urging them to deny media tours and on-farm interviews now says it never meant to deny access.

Tuesday, after the Associated Press reported the letter was sent to 500 dairies, a public relations firm followed up with this statement from United Dairymen of Idaho CEO Karianne Fallow:

jennie-o / Flickr Creative Commons

On Wednesday a federal judge hears arguments on Idaho’s new “ag gag” law, which creates stiff punishments for people who surreptitiously video or photograph agricultural operations.

MHall209 / Flickr Creative Commons

A federal judge has denied a request by the Idaho Dairymen's Association to join Idaho in defending the recently passed law criminalizing surreptitious recording at agriculture facilities.

The Times-News reports that U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill shot down the request Monday. Winmill said in his ruling that the state can represent the dairymen's interests without the group getting involved.

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