According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture conducted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Idaho had an inventory of more than 2.4 million head of cattle and calves in December 2017, ranking 12th among all states. In comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated Idaho’s population to be around 1.7 million in 2017, which means there were over 700,000 more cattle than people in Idaho that year.
According to the agriculture census, nearly 42 percent (nearly 4.9 million acres) of Idaho’s farmland and over nine percent of the state’s total land is permanent pasture. This land is generally unfit for growing crops or timber, but cattle thrive on it, converting vegetation unusable by humans into edible protein. There are few other ways this land could be used to produce food for humans.
Idaho cattle also have a positive economic impact. In 2017, milk and meat sales generated $4.1 billion. In that year, Idaho ranked 4th nationally in milk sales, with a value of $2.3 billion. Idaho ranked 11th among all states in cattle and calve sales in 2017, with a value of $1.8 billion. Milk is Idaho’s No.1 grossing agricultural commodity followed by cattle and calves. Potatoes, indisputably Idaho’s iconic crop, rank 3rd in the state for sales value. It is worth noting that potatoes cannot be grown in Idaho on much of the land on which cattle graze.
The value of cattle to Idaho’s economy is even greater when production expenses are considered. The Census of Agriculture does not break out expenses by commodity, but it does report Idaho farmers and ranchers incurred almost $6.7 billion in production expenses in 2017. Dairy farmers and beef producers sustain considerable production expense in feed costs, hired labor, veterinarian services, cash rents, and many other expense categories. A substantial number of Idahoans earn a living selling goods and services to the dairy and cattle industries. In 2017, Idaho ranked 5th nationally in hay and haylage production with more than 5.8 million tons produced. Idaho’s hay producers sell much of their production to dairy and beef operations.
The 2017 Census of Agriculture proves cattle provide Idaho with a bovine bonus through effectual land use, contribution to the world food supply, and substantial positive economic impact.