Town and Dairy: Social impacts of dairies

dairy

Dairy belt/University of Idaho

Large swaths of southern Idaho have been transformed in the last couple of decades by dairies – not the little norman Rockwell dairies of yore but megadairies, with populations of cattle that overshadow those of people, most notably in the Central magic Valley.

Most of the discussion has centered on the environmental effects of such masses of cattle. But the dairies have other effects too, social ones, that can have impact on politics and policy. These are the subject of a just-out 109-page University of Idaho report called “Town and Dairy.”

The report inevitably focuses on two points, both highlighted early on: “Two parallel trends shape the context for this analysis. Both are consistent with national trends in farm-dependent areas of the country. First, the structure of Idaho’s dairy industry is changing. The trend is toward larger and more geographically concentrated farms with an increasing demand for wage labor. Second, Idaho is becoming more ethnically diverse as the state’s Hispanic population grows at a faster rate than the rest of the population.”

Alongside these, the report looks into economic impacts – increases in population but also in unemployment and demand on social services, on crime (not that dairies are catalysts for crime but that population increases do lead to more activity), on schools and health care. The report isn’t wholly negative; it points out some major economic boons the dairies have contributed. But also points out the costs.

Useful reading.

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