One might as well use a crystal ball to determine how Idaho agriculture will turn out in 2019, but many farmers remain optimistic.

Peas from his 2018 harvest sit in storage at Clark Hamilton’s farm in Bonneville County. He is awaiting the outcome of international trade negotiations.

“Since China imposed a 25-percent tariff on peas, I’m holding our crop waiting for a better market opportunity,” said Hamilton, who grows peas, alfalfa, wheat, barley and potatoes on a 6,000-acre family farm.

“I’m optimistic China and the U.S. will get together on a trade deal so farmers can get a better price on their crops,” said Clark, the District 4 chairman for the Idaho Wheat Commission. “India imposed a tariff on field peas.”

Celia Gould, director of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, also hopes trade tensions diminish in the coming year.

“We look forward to 2019 as an opportunity for better commodity prices and decreased trade tension,” Gould said. “Idaho farmers and ranchers are extremely well-poised in terms of quality and yields. In fact, it is extraordinary efficiency and productivity that has carried the day for many operations. If commodity prices rebound and trade headwinds subside, I’m hopeful that 2019 can be a good year for Idaho agriculture.”

U.S. tariffs will stay at 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese products as of Jan. 1, according to a White House statement. President Donald Trump said he would not raise tariffs to 25 percent if an agreement is reached within 90 days. In turn, China has agreed to purchase agricultural, energy, industrial and other products from the U.S. to reduce a trade imbalance between the two countries.

Agricultural uncertainties in 2019 do not faze Clark.

“By nature, farmers have to be optimists,” the 52-year-old said. “It’s the risk we take whenever we plant.”

He is optimistic about his wheat crop, too.

“We live in a world economy for sure,” he said. “A drought hurt Australia’s wheat crop, which will help U.S. farmers. Idaho farmers export about half of what we produce.”

Because the prices of wheat tend to trickle to the barley market, he is also optimistic about his crop next year.

“Idaho is No. 1 in barley production nationwide,” he said.

Most of the crop is sold to Anheuser-Busch’s malt plants in Idaho Falls.

Anheuser-Busch is in the midst of contracting the 2019 barley crop to supply two malt plants in Idaho Falls, said Jessica Newman, director of U.S. agronomy at Anheuser-Busch in Idaho Falls.

“Tariffs and trade negotiations are affecting American farmers, but that impact is less direct when it comes to barley,” she said. “Unlike soybeans and other crops, there is no significant export market. Looking forward, we will continue to purchase high-quality malting barley from Idaho growers.”


While the tariffs have affected some crops, other Idaho commodities are unaffected. Retaliatory tariffs have affected processed but not fresh potatoes.

“A tariff hurt exports of frozen and dehydrated potatoes to Mexico and China,” said Ross Johnson, director of international marketing for the Idaho Potato Commission. “Fortunately, due to a report of a crop failure in Europe where the harvest declined due to drought and high temperatures, potato demand has increased significantly for processed products.”

He said European companies are contacting U.S. processors to fill the demand.

Europe was not the only place where weather adversely affected potatoes.

“Farmers in Canada and Wisconsin left a portion of their crop in the ground due to cold, snowy weather at harvest,” he said. “With those shortages, prices should rebound in the coming year.”

Potatoes, the third most valuable ag commodity statewide, were valued at $975 million in 2017, up less than 1 percent from the previous year, according to the most recent report from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.


With new hay processors opening plants in the area, Travis McAffee, a member of the board of directors for the Idaho Hay and Forage Association, said he is optimistic about 2019.

Hay pellets will be processed at new plants in Pocatello and Monteview areas.

“The new farm bill will help dairies, which in turn will help hay producers,” McAffee said. “A new 250-head dairy opened near Howe, too.”

He raises dairy-grade alfalfa hay near Howe and also serves as a director on the Idaho Farm Bureau board.

“We have the right weather to grow high-protein hay, which helps us market our crop,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”

Milk is the leading agricultural commodity in Idaho, according to NASS. In 2017, it was valued at $2.52 billion, up 7 percent from the previous year. The fourth most valuable crop, hay, amounted to $718 million, up 7 percent from 2016.


The second most valuable crop statewide is cattle and calves with a production value of $1.38 billion in 2017, down less than 1 percent compared to 2016, according to NASS.

Ryan Steele, District 4 representative to the Idaho Cattle Association’s board of directors, said he is cautiously optimistic about 2019.

“There’s a big supply, but consumers’ demand is absorbing that supply to keep prices steady,” said Steele, owner of SRS Cattle, a 4,500-head feedlot near Idaho Falls. “We should have a decent year. The key to staying profitable is marketing; timing is everything.”