Agricultural lands provide valuable habitat for wildlife like deer
Deer passing through crops Agricultural lands provide valuable habitat for wildlife like deer © Hamilton Wallace

Stories in Idaho

Providing Food and Water Sustainably in Idaho

Feeding a growing population while promoting a healthy environment and helping communities thrive.

HEALTHY SOILS, CLEAN WATER

When you think about conservation in Idaho, agriculture may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, agriculture, an industry that depends entirely on healthy lands and freshwater, plays a critical role in Idaho’s environmental health.

Idaho produces a lot of food for the U.S. and the world. It ranks first in the nation in the production of potatoes and commercial trout. Due in part to irrigation, Idaho is also the third largest water user in the U.S., consuming 17.7 billion gallons per day of freshwater.

In 2018, The Nature Conservancy launched the Healthy Soils, Clean Water program. This initiative brings together the ingenuity of the state’s farmers and TNC’s conservation experience to transform the way we use soil and water to grow food. Idaho native and long-time agriculture specialist, Brad Johnson, joined the Idaho Chapter in 2019 as its first-ever agriculture strategy manager.

Program Goals

  • Support economic viability of Idaho’s agriculture community
  • Improve soil health and water quality
  • Address water scarcity and climate change

This project has real value to us, particularly as we look to identify meaningful ways to maintain, or even increase, the farm's value for our children.

Teton Valley Farmer

USING NATURE TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE

The agrictulture practices we are promoting through the Healthy Soils, Clean Water program are among the most powerful ways we can fight climate change in Idaho. For example, planting cover crops can increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, and preventing excess fertilizer use can reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

Natural climate solutions like improved agriculture practices can reduce one fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recently published peer-reviewed article in Science Advances.

Potatoes pulled from the ground
Idaho Potato Farm TNC is partnering with Idaho farmers to transform the way we use soil and water to grow food. © John Finnell

TRANSFORMING THE WAY WE GROW FOOD

Todd Ballard and Wyatt Penfold are among the early participants in TNC’s Healthy Soils, Clean Water program. Through these and other partnerships, TNC aims to successfully demonstrate the benefits of soil health practices, in order to catalyze change across the state.

Ballard’s family has farmed in the Kimberly area for 100 years. Six years ago, he started to experiment with using cover crops to improve soil health. That marked the beginning of his farm’s shift from traditional to regenerative farming. Now he hopes to expand his toolbox with support from TNC.

The Penfolds also know that innovation is key to the future of agriculture. The have been successfully growing seed potatoes in eastern Idaho for generations but were one of the first farmers in the Teton Valley to experiment with growing quinoa.

"Working with The Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Teton River has allowed us to test an innovative crop rotation that we’ve been thinking about for years but never implemented due to potential economic risks,” said Wyatt Penfold. “This project has real value to us, particularly as we look to identify meaningful ways to maintain, or even increase, the farm's value for our children. This project allows us to test ways to improve soil health, adapt to changes in water availability, all while safely evaluating impact on revenue generation.”

Idaho Agriculture By The Numbers

  • 3.3 million acres of irrigated farmland
  • 2.1 million cattle
  • 579,000 dairy cows
  • 21% of Idaho’s economic output in sales generated by agriculture and food processing