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NAFTA under negotiations; a brief look at Idaho agriculture

History of NAFTA - three part series

A wheat field at Lukes Gulch, pictured in July.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
A wheat field at Lukes Gulch, pictured in July.

The contention that surrounded NAFTA 23 years ago still permeates today’s government, as more stakeholders and Congress members voice their concerns about the ongoing negotiations and how they will affect trade with Canada and Mexico.

NAFTA virtually eliminated tariffs on raw and processed agricultural goods, eliminated tariffs on manufactured products such as automobiles, and created protections for intellectual property rights between the US, Canada and Mexico.


History of NAFTA: A three-part series

The elimination of tariffs on agricultural products has been important to Idaho’s economy, as food and agriculture was Idaho’s second largest export sector in 2016, at 15.4 percent of total exports.

Laura Johnson, Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) Marketing Bureau Chief, reaffirmed agriculture’s importance to Idaho’s economy.

“We’re very export dependent. In agriculture, we export more than we import…we produce more than we can eat here,” said Johnson.

According to the ISDA, Idaho is among the top 10 producers of 30 agricultural products in the U.S., and arguably the most important are dairy products, potatoes, wheat, and barley.

Dairy products, 18 percent of Idaho’s total agricultural exports, are Idaho’s biggest agricultural export sector, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Idaho ranks fourth in dairy production in the U.S.

Mexico is Idaho’s largest dairy export market, a connection important enough for cheese producers based in Idaho to have full time representatives in Mexico, noted Johnson.

The center of Idaho dairy is the Magic Valley region, which holds 57 percent of the dairy farms and 72 percent of the dairy cows in the state, according to the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. The remaining dairy farms are in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho.

Another important agricultural export from Idaho is potatoes. Idaho is the largest producer in the U.S., and potatoes account for most of the fresh and processed vegetables produced in Idaho, according to Dr. Garth Taylor, an agricultural economist at the University of Idaho.

Skylar Jett, an ISDA trade specialist, reaffirmed the importance of potatoes to Idaho’s agricultural economy.

“Potatoes are such a huge industry for Idaho…if the tariffs go up and the quotas go up, that’s a huge loss for us instantly,” said Jett.

Potato production in Idaho occurs mostly in and around Bingham County, which has nearly twice as much potato farming acreage as the next ranked county, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Wheat is the third most exported agricultural product in Idaho, accounting for 14 percent of agricultural exports in 2015.

50 percent of wheat exported internationally, according to Johnson, and the two epicenters for production are in the Palouse Region and in Bingham and Power counties.

Idaho is also a prominent exporter of barley, which makes up a majority of the fourth most exported agricultural product in Idaho, feed and feed grains.

Barley trade is particularly important with Mexico, said Johnson, because significant portions of Idaho barley, farmed in many eastern counties, is malted and put in beers manufactured in Mexico, like Corona.

The importance of international trade to Idaho’s largest agricultural industries indicates that the NAFTA negotiations are important to the state.

In the next installment, how the negotiations might alter the economy of Idaho will be discussed. Graham Zickefoose- University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research, UI JAMM News Service.


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