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Port of Lewiston a Major Benefit to Nez Perce County Farmers

By Sean Ellis

When it comes to agriculture, wheat is king in Nez Perce County.

But the county is very diverse geographically and plenty of other crops are produced there as well.

And anchoring the county’s agricultural industry is the Port of Lewiston, which provides farmers in the region an efficient and cost-effective way to ship their wheat and other ag products to overseas markets.

“Winter wheat is the predominant crop in Nez Perce County,” says Robert Blair, who farms near Kendrick.

But, he adds, the county is very diverse geographically. For example, elevation around Lewiston, the county seat, is about 800 feet above sea level, while it’s closer to 4,000 feet in some other farming areas in the county.

The Lewiston area gets roughly 10-12 inches of rain per year while other areas of the county receive 25-plus inches, says Blair, former president of Nez Perce County Farm Bureau. And the Lewiston area has sandy soils, while heavier clay soils are predominant in the higher elevations.

“Nez Perce County is very diverse geographically,” he says.

That’s the reason a variety of crops are able to be produced in Nez Perce County, which has 446 farms and 381,587 total acres of land in farming, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

“We have wheat and barley, garbanzo beans, lentils, peas, canola, alfalfa, and there’s a lot of Timothy hay exported from the area,” says NPCFB President Dale Wolff, who farms and ranches near Kendrick.

The backbone of the county’s and region’s agricultural industry is the Port of Lewiston, where bulk ag commodities can be loaded onto barges and moved down river to West Coast ports for export.

“It’s a vital part of the county. I can’t imagine life here without it,” Wolff says about the port, which is the furthest inland seaport in the United States. “We’ve built our economy here in Nez Perce County around that river system. It’s staggering how much of our economy the river system supports.”

The port is crucial to the region’s agricultural community because it gives producers a competitive freight advantage that it otherwise wouldn’t have, says Blair.

“The port is huge both for moving farming products down the river to global markets and to get our inputs, like fertilizer, coming in through Lewiston at reduced rates,” he says.

Cattle and calves also play a significant role in the county’s agricultural portfolio. According to the 2017 ag census, there were 13,000 head of cattle in the county during the 2017 census year and that industry brought in $13 million in farm-gate revenue.

“There is a significant amount of rangeland in the county where cattle grazing is the main use because of steep slopes and poorer soils,” says Bob Smathers, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s regional field manager for North Idaho.

The economies of rural areas in the county are primarily based on farming, livestock and forestry, Smathers says. “In fact, Nez Perce County’s overall economy is rooted in agriculture.”

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 105,449 acres of wheat produced in the county during the 2017 census year, 44,982 acres of garbanzo beans, 14,538 acres of hay, 6,247 acres of lentils and 6,116 acres of barley for grain.

Ninety-three percent of the farms in Nez Perce County are family farms, according to the census, and 8 percent of them sell directly to consumers.

There are a lot of very small farms in the county. According to the ag census, 117 of the county’s farms are 9 acres or less in size and 191 of them had sales of $2,500 or less in 2017.

But there are still plenty of bigger farms in Nez Perce County. According to the ag census, 108 farms in the county were 1,000 acres or more in size in 2017 and 112 of them had sales of $100,000 or more.

One of the main focuses of the Nez Perce County Farm Bureau organization is reaching youth with the message of agriculture and making sure they receive the real facts about farming and ranching, Wolff says.

“We support all of our local youth programs, such as 4-H and FFA,” he says. “Most people are generations away from the farm now and there are fewer and fewer of us involved in farming. If we don’t educate those kids in town where their food comes from, then they’ll be susceptible to all the gobbledygook that’s being fed to them by (anti-agriculture groups).”


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The FCDC and AgSmart Bring Plant Breeding to a Wider Audience

Video: The FCDC and AgSmart Bring Plant Breeding to a Wider Audience

In the vast prairies of Alberta, Olds College’s Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) stands as a beacon of innovation and research in the agricultural world. The institution has become a key player in advancing agricultural technologies and practices. The FCDC’s commitment to applied research has driven them to seek effective means of disseminating their findings and creating a positive impact on the farming community.

One such avenue that aligns with their mission is AgSmart, an event dedicated to showcasing cutting-edge agricultural technologies. The coming together of the FCDC’s annual Field Day and Ag Smart has proved to be a natural fit, fostering a synergy that benefits both parties and propels the agriculture industry forward. The FCDC Field Day took part in conjunction with AgSmart for the first time this week on Aug. 1-2 in Olds, Alta. FCDC Program Director Kofi Agblor and Olds College VP of Development Todd Ormann sat down for an interview with Marc Zienkiewicz to discuss the significance of the two events taking part together and what the future holds.

The Intersection of Research and Technology The essence of the FCDC lies in its dedication to plant breeding and new seed varieties, particularly barley and triticale. While conducting research is essential, it becomes meaningful when its benefits are shared with the wider community. This is where AgSmart steps in, providing a key venue for the FCDC to showcase their research. This union between research and technology creates a holistic and enriching experience for farmers, ranchers, and industry professionals, the pair said.

Seeds as Technology For the FCDC, the partnership with AgSmart goes beyond mere event collaboration. It is about creating an environment that bridges the gap between seeds and smart technology, Ormann said. The college believes that for technology to truly revolutionize agriculture, it must begin with a strong foundation — high-quality seeds. As the saying goes, “it all starts with a seed.” To demonstrate this critical aspect, the collaboration aims to showcase the seed value chain as an integral part of the smartphone.

The Birth of a Powerful Alliance The idea of joining forces emerged when staff realized the potential synergy between AgSmart and the FCDC Field Day. With just a few days separating the two events, a proposal was put forward to merge them. The marketing and communications teams from both sides worked seamlessly to ensure the essence of both events remained intact, creating a powerful alliance that leverages the strengths of each, Agblor said.

Driving Advancements in Breeding For Agblor, the partnership with AgSmart has tremendous potential to drive advancements in breeding and other technology. With technologies like drones and imaging becoming integral to phenotyping, breeding is no longer confined to vast fields to assess thousands of plants manually. Instead, it benefits from the data-rich insights brought about by smart technologies. These advancements make breeding more efficient, precise, and instrumental in shaping the future of agriculture.

Overcoming Challenges Together While the partnership between Olds College and Ag Smart has been a resounding success, there are challenges on the horizon. Securing stable funding for long-term breeding initiatives is crucial to sustain progress. The college is committed to navigating these challenges and investing in agriculture’s future sustainably, Agblor said.