You Can Grow It: Canyon County agricultural tour

Jim Duthie had a chance to tour a few agricultural operations in Canyon County.

When you consider all of the agricultural products grown in Idaho, the first thing you probably think of is potatoes, right? Then maybe sugar beets, fruit and dairy products. But the list is much longer, including some pretty exotic things like caviar, ostriches, alpacas and, can you believe it, alligators.

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Today on “You Can Grow It,” garden master Jim Duthie had a chance to tour a few of southwest Idaho’s agricultural operations, and shows us where some of your favorite foods come from, including apples, peaches, and even popcorn.

Recently I had the opportunity to tour several agricultural operations in Canyon County, including a hops farm, which I showed you last week on “You Can Grow It,” an onion packing plant, a winery, a fruit grower, and a seed processing facility. Today I want to give you a little glimpse of some of those places, so you can appreciate the wide range of food and other products raised right here in Idaho.

Southwest Idaho has a rich and diverse agriculture industry. There are hundreds of different kinds of products produced by Idaho growers, from grains, to fruits and vegetables, to dairy and meat products and the food those animals consume, as well as wool from both sheep and alpacas.

Last winter was hard on the Idaho grape industry. Most vineyards and wineries suffered losses to their grapevines, which froze and had to be cut back to the ground. Those vines are growing back again, but it will still be another year or two before they produce grapes like they did before the record-breaking winter.

The cold winter also caused some damage to Idaho’s fruit industry, especially to cherry and peach crops. Many trees have to be replaced, and overall production was down by almost half. But it will also recover with time.

Have you ever wondered how the fruit you love to eat gets from the orchard to the store where you buy it?

At Symms Fruit Ranch, a fifth-generation family-owned operation covering 5,000 acres in the Sunny Slope area along the Snake River, fruit is arriving at the packing house from the orchards in large wooden bins.

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Today they’re packing peaches and apples, destined for local stores, as well as consumers around the world.

The fruit is carefully placed on conveyors, which takes it through the cleaning process, where the fruit is washed to remove any dirt or debris from the picking process.

A literal river of fruit flows through the packing plant, as tens of thousands of peaches and apples complete the wash cycle.

The apples continue on, where they are dried and polished,

And then sorted for quality and variety.

Meanwhile, the ripened peaches are lifted from the water and separated by size and weight, careful not to bruise the fruit.

As the peaches are sorted, they’re labeled according to variety and size,

And then sent on to be packed in protective boxes, according to orders from stores and distributors.

The packed fruit is then stored in a refrigerated warehouse, where it will soon be shipped to customers.

“Well, we market all over the United States, and all over the world today. Most of our white-flesh peaches go to Asia. The majority of our yellow-flesh peaches will go to the East,” said Dar Symms, Symms Fruit Ranch.

“You’ll find our peaches in local stores as well.”

Down the road in Caldwell, Crookham Company produces and distributes the seeds that farmers around the world use to grow several varieties of onions, sweet corn, and an American favorite, popcorn.

“Crookham Company is a family-owned business, seed company, that’s been in business for 106 years, founded in 1911. We specialize in three crops: onions, popcorn and sweet corn. We’re most famous and well-known for our sweet corn locally as well as globally,” said Aaron Trent, Crookham Company.

In fact, Crookham Company claims to have one of the world’s largest popcorn seed banks, the largest sweet corn seed bank, and was the first company in the world to produce hybrid sweet corn on a commercial scale.

Local farmers grow the seed, which arrives in large trailers, like the sweet corn seen here. After being weighed,

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The husks are removed to leave the exposed ears full of seed kernels, which are then dried in large bins. A similar process occurs with the onion seedheads.
Once dried, the corn seed kernels will be removed from the cobs, and the little black onion seeds will be separated from the dried flowers.

After several inspections to insure quality and purity, these non-GMO seeds are packaged and ready for shipping to customers worldwide.

“Our customers would be farmers, as well as food processors, like a Del Monte or National Frozen Foods, as well as different popcorn companies.”

And it could be that some of the popcorn you like to eat was grown right here in the Treasure Valley.

As you can see, Idaho agriculture is big and diverse, and while most of these Idaho products make their way to consumers around the world, they’re also available right here at home, and in most cases, you can grow it.

Idaho ranks in the top ten states in the nation for production of many agricultural products. Canyon County claims more than 300,000 acres of farmland, generating over half-a-billion dollars in sales. And throughout Idaho, nearly 12 million acres are farmed, contributing almost $8 billion to the economy.