Malheur County growers want to be part of Idaho

Published online: Oct 23, 2015 News
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ONTARIO, Ore.—A recent effort to create a forum where people can discuss the idea of eastern Oregon and Washington counties joining Idaho was welcomed by growers in Oregon’s Malheur County.

If any county in the two states is a good fit for Idaho, it’s Malheur County, farmers and agribusiness owners in that county agreed.

“I guarantee you we’d be all for it,” said Kay Riley, manager of Snake River Produce, an onion shipping-packing facility in Nyssa, Ore., a few hundred yards from Idaho. “We don’t have anything in common with the western part of Oregon.”

Farmers in this area grow the same crops, are in the same time zone and many of the Oregon farmers have Idaho cell phone numbers.

Malheur County growers and ranchers are more conservative and identify more politically with their Idaho counterparts, said Shay Myers, general manager of Owyhee Produce, an onion shipper-packer in Nyssa.

“Everything about Malheur County is more identified with Idaho,” he said. “I wish I knew how to actually make this happen. I wouldn’t mind trying to help.”

The major crops grown in this area—onions, sugarbeets, mint, seed—are grown by farmers on both sides of the border and the industries are closely linked.

An onion processing facility in Parma, Idaho, for example, uses onions from farmers in both states and sugarbeets grown in Malheur County end up at a processing facility in Nampa, Idaho.

“With the kind of agricultural industry they have over there, we’d take them in a heart beat,” said Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder.

If Idaho annexed Malheur County, it would make life easier for Oregon growers who have to deal with tougher state regulations than Idaho growers do, said Paul Skeen, president of Malheur County Onion Growers Association.

“We would love to be in Idaho,” he said. “Idaho is an agriculture-friendly state and Idaho has a governor that is looking to help agriculture in any way possible.”

Oregon State University researcher Bill Buhrig, who has farmed in Malheur County all his life, said growers here have talked about joining Idaho for as long as he can remember.

While it’s a nice idea, the logistics of accomplishing that are formidable and incredibly complex, he said.

“There is absolutely no way that would ever happen, but it’s fun to talk about,” he said.

Idaho elected officials and representatives of the state’s congressional delegation said the effort has to originate on the Oregon side but they would be willing to help once it got going.

Ken Parsons, a retired farmer from La Grande, Ore., recently made news for creating a Yahoo forum where people can seriously discuss the idea of counties in eastern Oregon and Washington joining Idaho.

“I don’t have any of those answers but there are people out there with that knowledge,” Parsons said about the logistical hurdles. “I’m trying to get people sitting around this big internet table and start building a consensus on how to do it.”