September is Idaho Preferred Month. Here’s what that means for local farmers, consumers.
The annual celebration marks September as Idaho’s peak harvest season
Matt Wissel, the lead farmer at Wissel Farms in Nampa, showcases his field during an Idaho Preferred media tour. The family-owned business grows vegetables and fruits including green beans, watermelon, sweet corn, cabbage, pumpkins, and winter squashes. (Mia Maldonado / Idaho Capital Sun)
Last week marked the beginning of “Idaho Preferred Month,” a month-long initiative to promote food and agricultural products made in Idaho.
Each year, the governor declares the month of September Idaho Preferred Month because it is the peak harvest season. This month, farmers, stores and Idaho Preferred, a state program, partnered to promote local products that rank the Gem State seventh in the U.S. for agricultural goods and food product exports per capita.
Laura Johnson, the market development division bureau chief of Idaho Preferred, told the Idaho Capital Sun that consumers can look for the Idaho Preferred logo at select stores to know if the product was grown, raised or processed in Idaho.
Stores partnering with Idaho Preferred include Albertsons, Walmart, Boise Co-Op, Broulim’s, Lark & Larder, Moscow Food Co-Op, Red Top Market, Stokes, Ridley’s, Cliff’s Country Market and Winter Ridge Natural Foods.
Established in 2022 with funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Idaho Preferred is a program that promotes Idaho food and agricultural products. The program is administered by the Idaho Department of Agriculture and showcases the diversity and availability of Idaho products.
National agricultural rankings for Idaho
While Idaho is known for its famous potatoes, Idaho produces over 185 different agricultural products produced from over 24,000 local farms and ranches, according to the Idaho Department of Agriculture website.
And the potato state holds other national titles that are not as well known.
For example, Idaho ranks first in the U.S. for its alfalfa hay, peppermint and barley production.
Alfalfa hay is an important feed for animals such as horses and rabbits, and peppermint is an ingredient used to make other products. According to the Idaho Mint Grower’s Association website, 90% of Idaho mint oil is used to flavor gum, candy and toothpaste while the remaining 10% is used for medicinal purposes.
Barley, a cereal grain used in bread, beverages and stews, is also a top Idaho product that makes its way into international markets.
“Idaho is the number one producer of barley in the country and is home to the largest concentration of malting facilities in the world,” Johnson said. “The majority of our barley is grown for malt. Idaho malt is a key ingredient in Idaho craft beers.”
Malt, a grain product that is used in beverages for fermentation, is often exported to Mexico in large amounts, she said. So if you’re looking to support the Idaho beer industry without being in Idaho, consumers can opt for Mexican beer as it most likely contains Idaho ingredients.
Second place rankings
Aside from its first place rankings, Idaho is also the second largest grower of sugar beets and hops.
Idaho sugar beets provide 20% of total U.S. yields, and Idaho has more than 850 sugar beet farmers that plant about 175,000 acres and harvest more than six million tons each year, according to the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
Most of Idaho’s sugar beets are grown in areas of the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho at plants in Paul, Twin Falls and Nampa where granulated sugar, powdered sugar, liquid sucrose and brown sugar are produced.
As for hops, an ingredient used to keep beer fresh, the perennial plant is mostly grown in the Southwest part of the state around Wilder.
Third place rankings
There is a reason Idaho has more cows than people. Idaho is the third largest producer of cheese and milk in the U.S. behind California and Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
If Idahoans consumed all of the milk produced in the state, every Idaho resident would have to drink 40 glasses of milk every day of the year, according to the Idaho Department of Agriculture website.
“This month is a reminder of the great value that farmers markets contribute to the overall quality of life in Idaho,” Erica White, the Idaho Preferred program manager, said in a press release. “Local farmers markets bring great value to communities across the state by preserving Idaho’s agricultural heritage, contributing to local economies and supporting healthy communities.”
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