At the beginning of September, I had the opportunity to participate in an agricultural tour in Idaho, my home state. When I’ve done these tours in the past, it’s been when I was visiting a new place. I’ve seen megaranches in Florida, carrot farms in Arizona, dairies in Washington and pistachio orchards in California. I love these tours and am usually designated by my curiosity as the group question-asker. I’ve been in the position of tour guide enough to know that tours are much better when we ask questions. They are better for us and much, much better for the guide. When I was invited to participate in this one, I honestly worried I wouldn’t have many questions to ask. It was Idaho, and I knew Idaho, especially Idaho agriculture. I am happy to admit that I was wrong.
Leadership Idaho Agriculture organized this tour. One of the many things this group does is host agricultural tours for congressional aides. The group sends an open invitation to aides in Washington, D.C., to see a bit of agriculture in Idaho. Usually, the aides who respond cover agriculture or natural resource issues for their bosses. These tours help the aides gain a perspective of the issues facing Western agriculture and, hopefully, bring that perspective back to Washington. I participated with the aides as a local industry professional. The group was comprised of nine aides; most represented districts east of the Mississippi River, and eight of the nine were Republicans. The rest of us were local farmers or people like me representing agribusinesses.
What does one expect to see in Idaho on an agricultural tour? Potatoes, of course. Then probably dairies, beef cattle, maybe a hay operation, and, if you’ve read the Idaho Department of Agriculture pamphlet, some sugar beets. Do you know what we saw instead? Carrot and lettuce seed crops, an onion harvest, a watermelon farm, a hop operation, hybrid sweet corn breeding and an orchard with an in-house distillery operation. We also visited a meat-packing plant, a compost recycling center and the National Interagency Fire Center. We learned about irrigation systems and water users and how that industry is attempting to deal with urban sprawl and aging infrastructure. We learned about H2A programs and the labor crisis, and how Congress is trying to address it. It was fascinating and not at all what I expected.
I make a point to stay informed about current events in our industry. I read the newsletters the Farm Journal sends to my inbox and browse the various Progressive Publishing publications each month, reading the most pertinent articles. Still, I’m somewhat insulated from any outside my immediate vision; hay, dairies, potatoes.
There is a viral farming TikTok making the rounds on social media. It’s a voice-over of Mike Rowe saying, “1.5 percent of the country are feeding 330 million people, three times a day, and a good bit of the world as well. The fact that most people aren’t properly gobsmacked by that was something that always troubled me.” This tour of specialty crops in Idaho, practically in my own backyard, properly gobsmacked me.
We are in agriculture, but that doesn’t mean we know everything about our industry. What do you know about the hops in the beer you drink? Or the sweet corn your aunt planted in her garden? Or even the watermelon you picked up at the grocery store? I hardly knew a thing.
Stay curious, get involved, and ask questions. Be the best possible advocate for agriculture, and learn more than just the crops you raise.