Site Visit: Small Farm Brings Big Business for Idaho’s Treasure Valley
By Apollo Fuhriman, Region 10 Advocate
On July 11, Assistant Chief Counsel Prianka Sharma, Regional Advocate Apollo Fuhriman, Acting Director of Economic Research/Regulatory Economist Patrick Delehanty, and Assistant Chief Counsel Janis Reyes traveled to the Big D Ranch in Meridian, Idaho, just a few miles southwest of Boise, to learn more about how family farms operate and compete in the world-wide food market.
The Big D Ranch is home to four generations of the Durrant family who currently farm 1,100 acres of mostly sugar beets, corn, wheat and pinto beans. The ranch originally started to provide feed crops for their dairy of about 100 cows in the late 1940s. Eventually the ranch grew to more than 300 milking cows and 60,000 laying hens; however, the ranch has shifted away from dairy and poultry and now primarily relies upon crops. The 1100 acres of this Ranch represent just .00009 percent of all farm operations in the state of Idaho.
Family and long-term working relationships throughout Treasure Valley are very important to the farming community and this is not just a talking point, but is the reality at the Big D Ranch that employs Richard (the general manager) and Denese and all seven of their children, a son-in-law, two nephews and the grandchildren who help whenever they can. In Idaho, 97 percent of all agricultural operations are small businesses. Given the global nature of commodities, this ranch and others like it in Idaho compete locally and globally for business and has in fact sold directly internationally to many foreign markets including South America and Africa.
Advocacy staff had the opportunity to try their hand at a little farm work. They moved grain with massive front loaders, fed cows on a visit to neighbor’s dairy herd and walked near a sea of wheat over the vast ranch. The staff envisioned the huge operation it is at harvest time while hearing of the difficulties of dealing with unpredictable weather that can seriously damage crops and devastate the bottom line.
The family understands the importance of being involved in advocacy groups and organizations including Department of Agriculture committees. They are very involved with the Future Farmers of America and share concerns for the future of food production due to many factors including access to water, overly restrictive land-use regulations, transportation costs and access to transportation as well as some uncertainty in regards to the upcoming North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations. They also cited an ability to be conversant in Spanish as an essential tool for working with external employees. Although finding sufficient and capable labor was cited as an issue for other farms, the Big D did not currently have any difficulties in this regard. In addition to the massive bulk grain they typically ship to customers, ranch owners are constantly looking for new methods of selling products. They recently added smaller, 50-pound bags of feed to sell.
Advocacy staff was impressed with the ability for family members to live, work and play together toward common goals and left with a much better understanding of the constant struggle to compete while always remaining vigilant for external regulatory and legal challenges to their livelihood that literally keeps this family together.
Advocacy was in Idaho and Washington for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables July 11-13.
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Apollo Fuhriman serves as the Region 10 Advocate for the SBA Office of Advocacy, representing small businesses in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Fuhriman works with small business owners, state and local governments, and small business associations to bring the voice of Region 10 to Washington DC. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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