The six-county region of Southern Idaho, also known as the Magic Valley, may easily be one of the most geologically diverse and beautiful natural environments in the U.S., but its claim to fame comes from its dominance in agriculture, starting with farms and extending to processing, transport, and research and development.
“The region's heritage has always been agriculture,” says Jan Rogers, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization. “But it’s the sheer diversity in agriculture that makes us truly unique.”
With a population of about 250,000, more than one-third of the region's jobs tie back to agriculture and agribusiness, and the area ranks third in the U.S. overall for agricultural production.
Even during the recession begun in 2008, the area’s commitment to food products helped ensure that it was one of the last regions touched by the financial crisis, and one of the first out. As Rogers points out, food is always a necessity.
Southern Idaho ranks in the top 10 nationally for the production of several row crops, including potatoes (No. 1.), sugar beets (No. 3), alfalfa hay (No. 2), dry edible beans (No. 4), Spring wheat (No. 5), Winter wheat (No. 9) and barley (No. 2).
“More than one-third of our barley production goes directly to Coors Beer to provide their malted barley,” Rogers says.
An exceptional number of beans and seeds also are produced here. In fact, the popular sugar snap pea was first created and grown in the Magic Valley.
Locally, Canada-based McCain Foods and Con Agra/Lamb-Weston process and produce a huge percentage of the nation’s frozen French fries and frozen potato products. Amalgamated Sugar, meanwhile, processes beets into sugar at two area plants, plus operates the largest sugar research and development facility in the nation. Monsanto’s consolidated wheat technology facility also calls Southern Idaho home.
Livestock and Dairy
Rogers says Southern Idaho ranks No. 3 in dairy production, “flip flopping a bit with New York,” while also holding the No. 5 spot nationally in sheep and lamb production and No. 7 for wool.
“We’ve got the largest pork processor in the northwest, Independent Meat Company, although we don’t produce the pork here,” adds Rogers, underlining the presence of processors as well as producers locally. Processors include Carlin, Allan Ward, 7 Brothers Meats, Dale T. Smith Meat Packing and Scarrow Meats.
The area is No. 1 in the state in dairy cows, cheese and milk production, coming in fourth, third, and fourth respectively on the national level. A major site for cheese making, the area boasts the presence of Glanbia Foods (which produces cheese, nutritional supplements and more), Jerome Cheese, Brewster Cheese, Gossner Foods and Ballard Cheese.
After building and opening the largest yogurt processing plant in the world in Twin Falls in 2012, Chobani Yogurt also moved its research and development department here from New York in 2013.
Aquaculture also plays a huge role in the local economy, with Clear Springs Foods dominating as first in the world for freshwater rainbow trout production. To round it out, the Magic Valley ranks fifth in the nation for mink production thanks to the presence of Moyle Mink Farms. Meanwhile, four large apiaries have pushed the region to 12th in the nation for honey production.
“With all this food produced, we obviously have solid transport and infrastructure, since most of it is going elsewhere,” Rogers says.
The region also has a ready workforce, which appeals to new businesses moving in, and the College of Southern Idaho offers a two-year program in food processing management to pipeline students into jobs in the growing industries.
At the core, Southern Idaho has the people to fill jobs, plenty of infrastructure, an exceptional farming culture and ready access to transportation necessary to build one of the strongest agribusiness communities in the nation.
“We’re a culture of partnership for the companies located here,” Rogers says. “People say what they mean and actually deliver. We provide a good match for our companies’ needs.”