The state’s fiscal health, the drought gripping the Pacific Northwest and challenges to moving Idaho commodities throughout the nation were among the top issues Gov. Brad Little addressed during a recent speech before the Idaho Grower Shippers Association.
On his way back to Boise from a Sept. 2 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new intermodal shipping facility in Pocatello, Little shared a rosy assessment of the state’s current economic situation while addressing the organization’s potato growers and shippers.
Tax rebates, tax cuts, increased investments in infrastructure — particularly in transportation — education and water resources were other major talking points during Little’s brief speech at the IGSA’s 93rd annual meeting in Sun Valley.
Despite the economic good news, Little was quick to recognize the continuing drought conditions here in Idaho.
“A good snow year would help like hell. I just saw the latest forecast for the next 30 days, it doesn’t look good,” Little said.
Little said he would like to see some of the money available in Congress’s American Rescue Plan Act be placed in water projects, and he encouraged everyone to contact Idaho’s congressional delegation to lobby for that purpose.
“Regardless of what the federal government does and I think that’s the best thing we can do in Idaho,” Little said of the ARPA funds. “We’ll take our own initiative and do it here. We’ll continue to put money into recharge; we’ll continue to look at the most efficacious way to increase surface water in the critical places in the state.”
Little cited Idaho’s geology as an important factor in the state’s ability to store water, unlike other states facing critical water shortages.
“Other states aren’t blessed with our geology,” Little told the audience, “to where if they deplete their aquifer the ground shrinks. We are fortunate that we don’t have that geology here in Idaho. We will continue to do what we need to do in water, but like I said we could sure use a good snow year.”
Moving Idaho’s agricultural commodities to consumers and customers requires an efficient transportation system Little said.
Coming from the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the intermodal shipping facility in Pocatello, Little said that Celia Gould, director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, and her team are trying to increase railroad capacity throughout the state.
Speaking about the Pocatello facility, Little said that it will serves as a freight facility for containers to be shipped.
“They’re going to aggregate freight there and basically serve as a freight facility for containers to be shipped,” he said. “Driscolls in particular is going to use it for the hay that they’re processing right now.”
The governor said that the Great Western malting plant has expressed an interest in the facility but that most of the barley they ship is in smaller containers for smaller malt consumers around the world.
“We’re also continuing to look at fresh and frozen (potatoes),” Little said “What can we do to aggregate all the commodities in Idaho to get the fresh and frozen out of Idaho? It’s always a challenge to have enough purchasing power to entice railroads to give us commitment particularly given the seasonality of a lot of our commodities in Idaho.”
The governor said that the southern part of the state is somewhat hamstrung because it is served by only one railroad carrier, whereas the northern part of the state there is some competition.
“Anything we do in transportation, particularly in rail means, that farmland in Idaho is closer to the ultimate consumer,” Little said. “It means we’re going to have less traffic on our roads if we can put it efficiently, effectively, safely on the rails.”