Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lies, Damn Lies and Agricultural Statistics

Recently rancher Ken Ardrus had a guest commentary in the Idaho State Journal championing Idaho agriculture. However, like almost all folks in Ag, he has an overblown view of his place in the Idaho economy.

For instance, Mr.Ardrus suggested that Idaho AG was Idaho’s largest industry. This claim is created by aggregating anything remotely connected to Agriculture into the “one industry”, while other economic sectors like the service industry (which is way larger than Ag) is broken down into multiple subsets like finance, legal services, real estate services, tourism, and so on, thus reducing the individual contribution of each to the total economy.

Mr. Andrus also asserts that Ag contributes to 14% of the jobs in Idaho. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ag only contributes to 4.1% of all full and part time jobs in Idaho. Idaho Non-farm employment accounts for 95.9% of all jobs.

How does Mr. Andrus and his sources come up with the 14% jobs in AG? I haven’t investigated it for Idaho, but in other states where I have researched Ag’s economics, I’ve found that Ag schools and state Dept of Ag typically inflate the employment in Ag by inclusion in its employment statistics anyone who has any job that is remotely related to food.

There are several ways they inflate Ag’s employment numbers.

For instance, in Vermont where I did an in-depth analysis of Vermont Agriculture and its economic contribution to the state, I found that the Vermont Dept of Agriculture classified anyone who earned more than $1000 in gross income from an agricultural product as a “farmer” even if that person essentially works full time at another job.

For instance, I had a friend who was a professor at the U of Vermont, but he had a sugarbush operation and collected maple syrup. He barely earned a $1000 from his operation, but according to the Vermont Dept of Agriculture, he was a farmer. Of course, if you asked him what he did, he would tell you he was an English professor.

Another way that the Vermont Department of Ag inflated Ag’s contribution to the state economy was due to the inclusion of anyone whose job remotely was tied to Agriculture. So, in Vermont, the biggest sector of the Ag employment wasn’t farmers. It was the grocery checkout clerks, or someone working grinding coffee at Green Mountain Coffee Company or the person making beer at a brewery—all of whom were classified as “Ag workers” because they touched food in some way.

This, of course, inflates other statistics, like the total “income derived from Agriculture”, thus again exaggerating Ag’s importance.

Accordingly, US Dept of Commerce economic analysis all farm/ranching derived income contributed only 5.3% to Idaho’s personal income.

With regards to public lands grazing, the employment is almost insignificant. According to another study done by Dr. Thomas Power, former chair of the Economics Dept at the U of Montana, public lands grazing contributes approximately 0.29% of the income derived from federal forage and only 0.11% of the jobs in Idaho. Power calculates it would take less than 31 days of income growth in other sectors of the Idaho economy to replace all the income from federal grazing leases.

With regards to “water rights” again Mr. Andrus asserts that water rights are property. Mr. Andrus asserts because water rights can be bought and sold they are a property right. You can own a “water right” but that does not mean you own the water, any more than if I bought a cabin on state or Forest Service cabin lease land I would “own” the land.

Like all western states, the Idaho public owns the water. A water right only dictates who gets to use the water and in what quantities IF the public decides to permit its use. What the public giveth it can take away.

In short, beware of Ag statistics which are designed to overstate agriculture’s economic importance to silence criticism and of course ensure continued public support for all the welfare subsidies Ag enjoys at taxpayer expense.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
Samantha Krop
Questioning Our Declaration on Human Rights
Morna McDermott
Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit
Patrick Walker
Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize
Julia Stein
Wrestling With Zionism
Clark T. Scott
The Exceptional President
Barry Barnett
The Family of Nations Needs to Stand Up to the US  
Robert Koehler
Two Prongs of a Pitchfork
Bruce Raynor
In an Age of Fake News, Journalists Should be Activists for Truth
Max Parry
The U.S. Won’t Say ‘Genocide’ But Cares About Armenian Democracy?
William Gudal
The History of Israel on One Page
Robert Jensen
Neither cis nor TERF
Louis Proyect
Faith or Action in a World Hurtling Toward Oblivion?
David Yearsley
The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail