There is a lot of bare land in Butte County and not too many humans but a lot of people might be surprised to find out there’s still plenty of farming going on in this sparsely populated area.
“There is a lot of bare land but there is still a lot of agriculture in this county,” says Travis McAffee, who farms and ranches in Butte County, which is 2,200 square miles in size but has fewer than 3,000 people.
The county is known for its buttes and disappearing rivers but it also should be known for agriculture.
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 189 farms in Butte County in 2017, down 12 percent from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. However, the average size of farm in the county increased 18 percent during that time, to 690 acres. That’s significantly higher the statewide average of 468 acres.
“We used to have more farmers and ranchers but a lot of the operations got consolidated,” says McAffee, who serves on the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors.
But those remaining farms in the county produce a lot of crops and livestock.
According to the 2017 Census of Ag, there were 130,366 acres in farms in the county in 2017, with 60 percent of that being in cropland and 33 percent in pastureland.
When it comes to farm-gate receipts, cattle and calves, hay and grains are some of the top agricultural commodities in the county.
According to the census, there was 47,224 acres of hay produced in Butte County in 2017, 11,726 acres of barley, 9,060 acres of wheat and 1,068 acres of potatoes.
There were 9,138 cattle and calves in Butte County in 2017, as well as 848 sheep and lambs, 212 goats, 108 hogs and pigs and 465 horses and ponies.
McAffee, who farms 900 acres of hay, 200 acres of malt barley and runs 200 head of cattle, said the number of wheat acres in the county is on the rise.
“There is getting to be quite a few wheat growers here,” he says.
While outsiders driving through the county could be expected to not realize how much agricultural production there still is in the area, a lot of county residents also don’t realize that, McAffee says.
“I think a lot of people in Butte County even forget that there are still a lot of farmers and ranchers that support the local economy,” he says.
That’s why reaching kids in school and teaching them about agriculture and it’s importance to the local economy and tax base is an important mission of Lost Rivers Farm Bureau, says Kelsey Broadie, who farms and ranches in Moore and serves as president of LRFB, which encompasses all of Butte County and part of Custer County.
She says LRFB has strong relationships with local schools and Farm Bureau members go into classrooms every year to teach students about farming and ranching and inform them, their teachers and parents that a good portion of the county’s economy and tax base is supported by agriculture.
“It’s important that they realize how critical the agriculture industry is to this area,” Broadie says. “Even if they are not involved in agriculture, the industry is helping to support them and it’s important they know that. Without farmers and ranchers, the whole community would suffer.”
The county Farm Bureau organization also sponsors an annual Ag Bowl for high school students in the area. It’s a fast-paced
trivia game about agriculture where grades compete against each other.
“That’s a pretty cool competition,” says Trent Van Leuven, a LRFB member and high school ag teacher who helps coordinate the Ag Bowl event.
Lost Rivers Farm Bureau also donated $8,000 toward a new fish lab being built for the agricultural science program at Mackay High School.
The Lost Rivers Farm Bureau gets its name from the Big and Little Lost Rivers, which both, as their names suggest, disappear into the Snake River plain aquifer.
According to the 2017 Census of Ag, farmers and ranchers in the county brought in $42 million in farm-gate receipts in 2017, which, after operating expenses, translated into $15 million in total net cash farm income.
The county has a good mix of big, medium and small farms.
According to the ag census, there were 51 farms of 1,000 acres or more in Butte County in 2017 and 14 from 500-999 acres in size.
There were also 16 farms less than 10 acres in size, 30 from 10-49 acres in size, 41 from 50-179 acres and 37 from 180-499 acres.