Agriculture is “still alive in Idaho and the Treasure Valley” as an economic engine and employer, panelist Margie Watson said at a Jan. 14 forum on rural jobs and economic growth. Specialty crops are increasingly important in southwest Idaho, as seen in recent discussions involving the University of Idaho Parma Research and Extension Center, she said.
Participants in the wine, specialty fruit and seed industries were among supporters of the Parma field station, which avoided a budget-related closure after J.R. Simplot Co. made a five-year financial commitment that the UI Board of Regents approved. Watson, who at the end of 2009 completed a four-year term as Parma mayor and then rejoined local produce concern J.C. Watson Co., was among those working to keep the Parma Research and Extension Center open. She was instrumental in forming a coalition of agriculture entities and launching a public-awareness campaign on how closing the center could affect the industry and the state, according to panelist bios circulated at the forum.
Agriculture has many sub-sectors and participants. Watson said the Parma Research and Extension Center experience served to get many participants together in the same room.
“We need to be able to do that,” she said, referring to collaboration. “Ag is what’s carrying the state now. We still need to be innovative, and to have technology, related manufacturing and education,” she said. But without collaborating, the industry risks going backwards, she said.
Parma is one of six school districts that belong to the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency (COSSA), which provides vocational-technical education and is constructing a new building. The state should look at more cooperative opportunities, Watson said. In the COSSA-member communities, that program provides many students with an “I can” attitude about pursuing post-secondary education, she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Gallatin Public Affairs, Idaho Rural Partnership and the Idaho National Laboratory presented the forum at the College of Western Idaho in Nampa.