The state of Idaho is very closely connected to the earth that is it built upon, the plants that can be grown in that earth, and the animals that can graze on what pops out of that earth. Idaho is one of the few places on the planet remaining that is strongly dedicated to agriculture and what grows in the dirt. Most people understand this. They get a significant amount of their food (Either as ingredients or as part of a larger meal) from Idaho and there are a lot of people that associate Idaho with the potato, a fair if limited association. Idaho is not an agrarian society and is not entirely devoted to the agricultural industry (The largest employer in the state is Micron Technology, a tech company that produces semiconductors as well as other technological products) but it is certainly a massive part of the state’s economy and identity. While Idaho’s economy is diverse in many ways and has a lot of opportunities for a lot of different people, it could not survive without an overwhelming amount of attention given to agricultural matters. And so, I want to give you the bones of the system and tell you a bit about Idaho and its relationship with agriculture. Why is Idaho so great for growing? What does it grow and what animals does it raise? Allow me to answer these questions for you and open your mind.
First, what makes Idaho so great for agricultural purposes? What is different about the state that puts it above other states that might try and compete in the agricultural industry. To begin with, there are other states who are better than Idaho, though that is only to say that they produce large amounts of food and food products and not so much to say that they are better producers. Quantity is not the same as quantity. There are two major factors that contribute to Idaho’s quantity and quality. The first is the flat and wide-open regions of Southern Idaho. If you have been to Southern Idaho than you know that while there are mountains and hills to be found, there is also a whole lot of nothing. Idahoans have filled this nothing with farms and fields and pastures. You need space for these kinds of endeavors and Idaho certainly has a lot of space in the south. The other factor of special note is just how rich and perfect the soil of Idaho is. A lot of this has to do with the state’s volcanic history. Volcanic eruptions in large numbers have the effect of changing the composition of the soil into something more nutrient-rich and healthy for plant growth. Idaho is not so volcanically active right now, but it definitely has a violent and lava-filled history.
And what exactly is it that Idaho is growing? First of all, you have the potato. We have already covered this, but I will say that the potato certainly has a very important place in Idaho’s identity and that it has contributed to a lot of tasty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners over the years in America. Idaho has also done a lot of innovating when it comes to the potato. French fries are as delicious and ubiquitous as they are because of the Idaho company Simplot (Formerly the J. R. Simplot Company). But potatoes are not the only things growing in and out of Idaho’s soil. You have the basic crops that you might expect to find anywhere in the United States like wheat and hay that are all grown in great quantities but what I think is very interesting about Idaho’s agricultural efforts is what it has done to grow ingredients for different kinds of high-quality alcohol. There are two major fields in which Idaho is really innovating for itself when it comes to alcohol. The first is wine. There are vineyards all over Idaho growing some of the best grapes in the world. Some of the wine bottled in Idaho has gone on to win national contests. Idaho also grows a lot of hops. Idahoans are doing a lot when it comes to creating quality craft beers and you can taste a sip if you visit one of Idaho’s breweries are any of its bars.
But it might surprise to learn that Idaho’s chief economic export is not something that is grown in the ground or in a bush or trees that hangs over the ground. That is right, the potato is not the biggest selling product in Idaho. The honor goes to dairy and all of the cows in Idaho. As of right now, there are about 1.7 million people living in Idaho. To contrast that, there are more than 2 million cows in Idaho. As you can see, there are a lot of cows in Idaho and they are mostly hard at work producing milk, cheese, cream, and other dairy-related products. Dairy outpaces every other product coming out of Idaho and generally, it outpaces them by a lot. As you might expect, Idaho is also pretty big when it comes to all of the other products related to cows. For example, beef is a pretty popular meat in America and a lot of the country’s beef is coming from Idaho.
As a final note, I want to point out for anyone who cannot adequately picture the complexities of Idaho’s agricultural industry that Idaho is not just a bunch of farms with farmers out in their fields, raking up potatoes. The modern-day American farm is a massive undertaking and many of the farms in Idaho rival the massive businesses operating in New York or the tech companies raking in billions in California. Idaho is not just a field of hay and a cow quietly munching on some grass in the background. It is a thriving economy with a thousand different levels to the agricultural industry with a million different jobs that need to be done on a daily basis. The agrarian farms of two hundred years ago could not feed the civilization that Idaho feeds today.