Idaho Agricultural Employment Maintains Growth Despite Recession

farm gdp

Agriculture is important to Idaho’s economy. But it’s not all potatoes. In 2011, crop and animal production generated nearly $1.8 billion, or 3.5 percent of the state’s real gross domestic product.

But most of the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures exclude agricultural jobs. The seasonal nature of the work, lack of coverage for unemployment benefits and addition of nonpaid family workers are some of the reasons.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service provide some information on farm employment. The Idaho Department of Labor combines these sources with other federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers to estimate the monthly number of agricultural workers for the state and each county.

The southwestern and south central regions of Idaho account for over 28,000 workers, or nearly 58 percent of all agricultural employment in the state. The 16 counties of eastern Idaho generate over 15,000 agricultural jobs – 31 percent of the state’s total. The northern and north central parts of the state account for the remaining 11 percent, or 5,400 of the nearly 49,000 agricultural jobs in Idaho.

ag jobs by region

Agricultural employment is less dependent on major economic events like recessions and more on factors like weather and commodity prices. As a result, Idaho agricultural employment fared better than total employment between 2007 and 2013. Idaho’s annual employment fell by 4.5 percent between 2007 and 2010. Agricultural employment continued to grow from 2007 levels while total employment remains below 2007 levels.

ag vs total jobs

Some regions of Idaho fared better than others. Eastern and southwestern Idaho were the only two regions to show gains in agricultural employment for all years between 2008 and 2013 when compared to 2007. Southeastern Idaho’s agricultural employment was unchanged between 2007 and 2008 but fell below 2007 levels every year since.

Idaho’s rural counties certainly play a major role in agricultural production. In 2013 there were nine counties where agricultural employment estimates accounted for 25 percent or more of total employment. Clark, Idaho’s smallest county, showed average agricultural employment between January and November 2013 at 261 – or 54 percent of the county’s total employment of 481. Gooding, Owyhee, Power and Camas counties rounded out the top five counties for concentration of agricultural employment.

ag change by region

Canyon, Bingham, Gooding, Twin Falls and Cassia counties posted the highest number of agricultural jobs. These five counties also represent 35 percent of the state’s total agricultural employment. Idaho’s 48,750 agricultural jobs are about 7 percent of total employment.

Idaho’s total cash receipts from farm marketings were $8.1 billion in 2012 – a 34 percent increase from 2007. Over $4.5 billion came from cash receipts for livestock and related products like dairy. The remaining $3.6 billion was in crop production, which increased 50 percent since 2007. The value of both crop and animal production hit record highs in 2012. Additional income from government payments and miscellaneous sources totaled over $374 million.

In recent years, farm proprietor income accounted for over 27 percent of total proprietors’ income – much higher than the 17 percent average between 2007 and 2010. Farm proprietor income nearly doubled between 2007 and 2012 while farm earnings only increased 50 percent. Over the same period, personal income increased by just 11 percent.

Apparently, farm profits are accumulating with proprietors before filtering down to hired workers. The number of farm proprietors actually decreased between 2009 and 2012. Farm earnings in 2012 accounted for 4.4 percent of total personal income – higher than any point since 2007., Regional Economist
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This article originally appeared in the January issue of the Idaho Department of Labor’s monthly economic and employment newsletter. Interested in reading more articles like this? Please send an email to to subscribe to the newsletter.