REXBURG — Gale Harding, an auctioneer and Upper Snake River Valley agriculture guru, emphasized the importance of Idaho’s agribusiness during a talk before the Rexburg Kiwanis last week.
Harding said that he plants and hauls hay and barley for a local farmer on 15,000 acres. Then, in the winter and fall, he drives a truck for a local potato farmer. This week, Harding will be at the National Potato Council auction at Fort Hall to raise money for a political action group.
Harding shared several statistics on Idaho’s agriculture.
“You all know that Idaho is very important when it comes to agriculture,” Harding said. “Two years ago we had $5.1 billion in just crop production, and that’s potatoes, grains, alfalfa, whatever. The total with everything is about $28 billion. So, agriculture is very important in the state of Idaho.”
He said it creates thousands of jobs across the state.
“We have, in our agribusiness — and when I talk about agribusiness, that includes farming, that includes processing, that includes fertilizing companies and everything — but to let you know how we compare to the rest of the Western United States, we’re almost four times greater than what Washington has in their total agribusiness,” Harding said. “In Washington, which is a lot bigger of a state than we are, we’re three times greater than Oregon when it comes to the amount of money that we put into agribusiness. We’re 10.5 times greater than Nevada, four times greater than Utah, 1.75 times greater than Montana.”
Harding asked the audience what they thought the number one selling item in Idaho that brought in the most revenue was. The answer was russet potatoes.
“Potatoes are number one,” Harding said. “The only things better or bigger than that are cows/cattle, especially dairy.”
He said that there is more cattle in Idaho than people but that Idaho produces the number one potato crop in the nation.
“We produce about one third of all the potatoes in the nation,” Harding said.
He said the reason for the great crop was Idaho’s soil. Harding went on to discuss that Idaho makes the best malting barley in the world.
“We belong to a triangle of barley producers that starts in Pocatello and then comes up this way to Idaho Falls, Rexburg and Driggs,” Harding said. “There’s a triangle. We raise more quality malting barley than any place in the whole world.”
Harding said that he once had dinner with the CEO of Miller High Life beer.
“I was drinking a Sprite, and he says, ‘Gale, that’s interesting that you’re drinking a Sprite. Where are you from?’” Harding said. “And I said, ‘Rexburg, Idaho,’ and he said, ‘Do you know that you folks produce the best quality malt of anybody that I know?’ ”
Not all of the barley produced goes into beer, Harding said, but very little goes into animal feed because most feed is now made of corn and soybeans.
Harding said that, despite possible stigma about barley producing beer, it is a quality product that locals should be proud of.
“He knew the quality we had here,” Harding said.