September 21, 2015

Idaho's Food Processing Growing Jobs And Economy

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Early innovations enabling long-term storage of potatoes and onions gave way to later processing methods that have enabled Idaho agricultural producers to feed people far beyond Idaho's borders.  Idahoans led the way in growing and processing the food necessary to nourish American troops fighting in World War II, and have fed Americans and consumers around the world for decades.  Building on this productive history as a leading food processing state, Idaho is a hub for the expansion or relocation of food processing operations. 

Idaho food production is a growing powerhouse.  Valued at more than $1.5 billion, Idaho agricultural industry's production is valued at nearly 20 times more than it was 40 years ago.  This is according to statisticsfrom the Idaho Department of Commerce that also reports Idaho ranking first among states in potato production, with 29 percent of the U.S. market; first among states in trout production, with 72 percent of the U.S. market; second in the production of peas, hops and barley; and third in hay, sugar beets, mint, plums, prunes, cheese and milk products.

Idaho's varied and abundant agricultural production has driven an expanding food processing industry that has a critical role in our economy.  Idaho Commerce reports that the benefits of food processing and agriculture in Idaho include 33,769 jobs; $41,145 average yearly earnings; a 6.4 percent 10-year projected growth rate; and more than 185 different agriculture products.  In a 2013 report, the University of Idaho Extension reportedthat Idaho food manufacturing accounts directly for $8.5 billion in sales and $1.2 billion of the Gross State Product (GSP).  The University found that, "Together, the whole food processing industry and agricultural industry in Idaho account directly for 6 percent of jobs, 15 percent of sales and 7 percent of GSP." 

Given Idaho's production attributes, it is no surprise that the U.S. Department of Commerce recently designated Idaho's Magic Valley as a top 12 U.S. Manufacturing Community, a designation that has been described as an opportunity to draw additional resources, investments and talent to the area.    

As we look to the future of our great state and consider the growing world population that will need food, work must continue to remove unnecessary barriers for food processing growth.  Removing redundant federal regulatory and paperwork burdens on food producers is a priority.  Addressing truck weights and other issues that help producers and processors get agricultural goods to manufactures and into markets and eliminating trade barriers that hinder Idaho food producers' access to world markets are also priorities. 

Bright and industrious Idahoans are feeding our nation and world.  As Idaho producers innovate and grow, our federal policy must encourage, not hold back, this economic expansion. 

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