Farming

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

There’s a legal fight going on over control of water in the Treasure Valley. The rhetoric in the fight has been intense. One side even has an ad campaign. 

Imagine a movie-theater preview voice comes up over cheery music reminiscent of a babbling brook. 

“Irrigation water, it makes the Treasure Valley a lush green miracle instead of a desert landscape. Imagine a typical 105 degree summer day. Now imagine your irrigation water is completely shut off to your lawn, garden, farm or favorite park.” The music stops.

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

"Nitrate" may as well be a four-letter word in the small town of Ashton, Idaho.

The eastern Idaho town of 1,200 people is about 20 miles from the border of Wyoming. Settlers in the area in the 1890s quickly took advantage the fertile volcanic soil beneath their feet, and began diverting water to irrigate the land. Seed potatoes are the big cash crop, though wheat, barley and hay also contribute to the local economy.

Idaho Department of Water Resources

It’s no secret that Eastern Idaho has a water problem. There is too much demand and too little water in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer to go around. But how did we get to this point? That’s what this chart is all about.

About 100 years ago, there was roughly 4,000 cubic feet per second of water coming out of the aquifer at Thousand Springs. It’s important to note that’s not how much water was in the aquifer, just how much was flowing out.

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

It’s 60 miles across, mostly hidden from view and vital to the economy of Idaho. Much of the time, the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer gets little attention, even from people who rely on it every day. Without it, farmland would disappear and cities from Twin Falls to Rexburg would dry up. As we begin our series on water in Idaho, we take a closer look at the state’s largest “body” of water, hidden underneath the Snake River Plain.

Northwest Nazarene University

There may soon come a day where the vineyards in Canyon County are tended to by a robot.

Northwest Nazarene University engineering professor Josh Griffin is helping to lead a team of researchers and students building a prototype. They received an $81,000 grant from the Idaho Department of Agriculture to create the aptly named “IdaBot.”

Chris vT / Flickr Creative Commons

Update, Friday - 12:09 p.m.: The Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal welfare organization in the nation, is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for lethally poisoning Casey Echevarria's 12 dogs.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

The new crop of bing cherries has been beset with growing problems this year that are reducing the size of the crop.

The Northwest's most popular cherry variety could be in short supply in 2016, after the five-state Cherry Commission on Wednesday lowered its outlook for the season to 18.3 million 20-pound boxes.

The Tri-City Herald reported that some farmers are warning that if conditions worsen, some bing orchards could go unpicked.

Kara Stenberg / Flickr

Southern Idaho gardeners and farmers are seeing an increase in voles, and the destruction they can cause, this year.

Voles are four-to-five inch long mammals, often mistaken for mice, that like to eat green vegetation.

“It’s a big problem in southern Idaho,” says Ronda Hirnyck. She’s the University of Idaho Extension pesticide specialist in Boise.

USDA

If you're a woman in agriculture, you're more likely to farm in Oregon than in Idaho.

Tristan Buckner / Flickr Creative Commons

The drought is killing wheat crops in a northern Idaho county where commissioners declared a state of emergency.

The Lewiston Tribune reports some Clearwater County farmers have seen drought conditions eliminate almost two-thirds of this year's crops.

Commission Chairman Don Ebert says recent rains were too late to save wheat crops, and that harvests are down 40 percent.

The National Weather Service forecasts more rain this week, but not enough to end drought conditions.

ironpoison / Flickr

Farmers and ranchers in the West's worst-hit drought regions will receive an additional $21 million to help them save water and soil despite the long dry spell.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the aid Monday. The assistance will go to areas of the West that are rated in the highest categories of drought. That includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah.

The aid is meant to help farms and grazing pastures cope with drought through better irrigation, cover crops and other measures.

Sara Creech has grown dependent on farming. She started out planting an orchard of fruit trees: apples, peaches, cherries and pears. She added berry bushes and rows of vegetables.

And then she bought her first chickens.

"A lot of people call chickens the gateway animal," says Creech, who lives in rural North Salem, Ind. "Like once you have a chicken on the farm, then you end up getting sheep on the farm, and then you end up getting horses, and cows. And then it just explodes from there."

Andy / Flickr

Banner Bank is taking over Spokane-based American West Bank in a $702 million deal that will expand the Walla Walla bank to 190 branches in five states, including Idaho.

Both banks cater to midsize businesses, farms and manufacturing companies. Banner president and CEO Mark Grescovich told The Spokesman-Review Wednesday that will continue.

He expects the deal to close next spring after a review by state and federal regulators and a shareholders' vote.

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. 

The rising popularity of hummus across the nation has been good for farmers like Aaron Flansburg.

Flansburg, who farms 1,900 acres amid the rolling hills of southeastern Washington, has been increasing the amount of the chickpeas used to make hummus by about one-third each year to take advantage of good prices and demand.

"I hope that consumption keeps increasing," he said.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The value of Idaho’s agriculture products grew from $5.7 billion to $7.8 billion between 2007 and 2012. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA.) It released preliminary results from its Census of Agriculture Thursday.  The USDA provides the update every five years and the latest covers 2012.  

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Much of Idaho has been in a severe drought and  scientists have now calculated how much rain and snow some Idaho water users will need in order to get by next summer.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has looked at surface water needs for the Snake River Basin.

Water supply specialist Ron Abramovich says if the state’s agricultural heartland from Idaho Falls to Twin Falls gets average precipitation, "They should be able to just squeak by with an adequate irrigation supply next year.”

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Rows of potatoes stretch off toward the horizon where the South Boise Correctional Complex looms. Inmate Joe Molyneux sticks his hands into the dirt and comes up with two potatoes.

This is the fourth year that inmates have grown potatoes, corn and beans on state land near the prison. It’s Molyneux’s first year doing this and he wanted this assignment. 

“To watch these plants grow, and to watch the magic of it, you plant one little tiny seed potato and you get a big pile of them at the end of the year,” he says. “The whole point of it is to watch God’s handiwork.”

Anna King / Northwest news Network

Drought that’s sizzling the rest of the nation has largely left the Northwest states alone. Furthermore, the Midwest’s farmers’ misfortune is actually benefiting farmers here.

That’s because grain prices are going up due to the Heartland’s decimated yields. Meanwhile, many Northwest farmers crops are above average.

Todd Ray is the owner of 10 New Holland tractor dealerships in Washington and Oregon. He says Northwest farmers may be doing better than the rest of the country, but they still have to think about high input costs –- like gas, tires and fertilizer.

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

The drought that’s gripped much of the country is hurting farmers from Texas to North Dakota. And here in Idaho, the effects of drought could be mixed for farmers and consumers.

Take your average grocery bill. Expect it to go up because of the drought says Paul Paterson.  The agriculture economist with the University of Idaho says the decimation of Midwestern crops like corn and wheat will increase the cost of most processed foods.

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