According to Sean Ellis, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Spokesman, farming and agriculture are still the roots of Bear Lake County. The most recent Census of Agriculture for Bear Lake County shows there are 395 farms in Bear Lake County covering 296,959 acres with an average size of 752 acres per farm divided into 48 percent crops and 52 percent livestock, poultry, and products. There are 57 farms that are 1,000 acres or more, which amounts to 14 percent of the total farms.
The Census also shows the total market value of products sold from those crops and livestock, poultry, and products to be $36,514,000 with an average market value of $92,441 per farm.
A 2020 Values by Major Category Report indicates the major tax revenue for the Bear Lake County comes from residential taxes at $735,9791,396, utilities at $157,812,607, and commercial taxes at $64,974,485. However, those are expected to be high. Tax revenue from resources show agricultural at $59,013,064, mining at $99,142, and timber at 86,551, which are significant amounts.
The largest agricultural product in the Bear Lake Valley is cattle and calves, which accounts for 52 percent of sales. This is closely followed by grains, such as wheat, barley, and alfalfa, which accounts for 48 percent of sales.
And, yes, there are still several dairies remaining; however the number has declined over the years. According to Cindy Teuscher of the Bear Lake County Extension Office, four of the dairies have become “organic,” and there are several organic hay and grain producers as well.
According to Albert Johnson, President of the Bear Lake Farm Bureau Association, there are between 15,000 and 18,000 mother cows and calves in the Bear Lake Valley and only around 6,000 full-time residents. Residents are outnumbered 3 to 1 by mother cows, which is an interesting statistic. It also takes a considerable amount of crops or “feed” to feed those cows and the calves they produce.
There is an agricultural-supported industry in feeder calves that goes out of this area. As offspring of mother cows, the mother cows will produce a calf every year. Up to 18,000 calves are marketed to feed lots in Colorado or Nebraska and some are fed here.
A high percentage of older cows and cull bulls from this area are shipped to Nebraska. Johnson’s son, Alex, trucks semi-loads of cows and cull bulls to Nebraska every week. Most of that goes out of the stock yards just outside of Montpelier and end up in feed yards or in hamburger stores.
Johnson says there are thousands of tons of wheat and barley produced in the valley as well as alfalfa, grain, and hay. Some of that hay goes to the hay press in Salt Lake City and is cubed and exported to Japan. His own hay crop is hauled to Rock Springs because they can’t grow it there, and several loads go to Arizona.
Quite a bit of organic wheat goes into the organic mill in Cache Valley, and a lot of barley is shipped out of the valley as well.
The alfalfa crops have a higher nutrient content and have a slower growing season here. The quality of these crops is excellent in Bear Lake County.
Johnson says the ability to market products has become easier now because of online marketing. Farmers can go online and sell beef cattle or calves, which he does him self, selling the majority of his crops online. He says, “Advantage comes with modern age.”
Just as a final thought, Johnson says it’s good to know that with agriculture, the money generated is brand new money into the economy, not recirculated money. He says, “When a baby calf is born or when a crop of hay is grown and harvested, it’s new money into the economy, not money that already exists. It increases the tax base and feeds local business. This is an element of agriculture that is sometimes not understood; it’s an advantage to a local economy that is different. We are basically talking about natural resource dollars such as mining, which goes hand in hand with agriculture. They are the base of our economy in Southeast Idaho.”
So, we can firmly say that farming and agriculture are still the roots of Bear Lake County.