Annual Ag Forum calls for active preservation of farmland

Chris Bronson/IPT Idaho Gov. Butch Otter greets Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling before the start of the Nampa Chamber of Commerce Ag Forum at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa Tuesday.

Chris Bronson/IPT
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter greets Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling before the start of the Nampa Chamber of Commerce Ag Forum at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa Tuesday.

By NICOLE FOY Idaho Press-Tribune

NAMPA — State and local agriculture leaders concerned about shrinking farmland discussed Tuesday how to lessen the loss of acreage.

Hundreds of people met for the fifth annual 2018 Ag Forum hosted by the Nampa Chamber of Commerce at the Ford Idaho Center.

“Decisions made now will influence the amount of farmland loss,” said Jodi Brandt, who teaches at Boise State University’s College of Innovation and Design.

Brandt said Idaho’s rapid growth meant losing farmland was inevitable. The study estimated the Treasure Valley would lose anywhere from 31 percent to 64 percent agricultural land by 2100.

Brandt sat on a panel alongside Lemhi Regional Land Trust Chairman Merrill Beyeler and Executive Director Kristin Troy; Canyon County Development Services Director Patricia Nilsson; and Republican state Sen. Todd Lakey of Nampa.

Panelists discussed ways communities, land owners, farmers and local governments could work together to preserve Treasure Valley farmland. Suggestions included city and county agricultural easement programs, more land-use restrictions and more tax incentives for farm owners.

“The best way to preserve agriculture is to make sure that farmers make money,” Nilsson with Canyon County said.

Troy with the land trust said each community should identify key ranch and farm land their local economy could not afford to lose.

The Lemhi Regional Land Trust — a conservation organization that offers ranch owners incentives and options to keep their ranches intact — has protected a total of 14,000 acres of ranch land in Lemhi and Custer counties, Troy said.

“You — as a community — need to decide if your ag land is worth making that choice,” she said.

Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling moderated the panel with Doug Lamm from Nichols Accounting Group. Kling said it was important for cities like Nampa to not only be cautious when expanding city limits, but also consider implementing things such as agricultural easements for long-term protection.

“For now, the city can be strategic in our growth,” Kling said.

Meridian High School senior Ashton Shaul won the FFA student competition to present the forum’s keynote speech. Shaul spoke passionately about the potential benefits of biotechnology in Idaho’s agricultural industry.

“In the next 30 years, the world population will reach close to 10 billion people, meaning farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food than they do today, on less land than before,” Shaul said.

Shaul, who will attend University of Idaho this fall, challenged the community leaders in the audience to use urbanization as an opportunity to revolutionize farming practices in Idaho. Preserving Idaho’s agricultural industry would have to include more than just land conservation efforts, Shaul said.

“Unless we make significant changes in the next few years, we risk losing our status as an agricultural powerhouse,” Shaul said. “The growth in our state and the reduction in our farmland is inevitable. But what we do in our response will determine our success for generations to come. Urbanization does not have to be death of the agricultural industry.”

Nicole Foy covers Canyon County and Hispanic affairs. You can reach her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @nicoleMfoy