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March 19, 2013 8:30 am

EDITORIAL: Celebrating agriculture

Written by Tessa Schweigert

New local developments in ag industry are promising

Water will soon circulate through the Powell Valley, bringing life to dormant fields through irrigation. It’s an encouraging sign of spring, and also a reminder of what keeps this community vital: Agriculture.

As America celebrates National Agriculture Day today (Tuesday), we recognize how important agriculture is to our region.

Historically, agriculture served as the catalyst for development here. Hearty homesteaders first came to the arid Powell Valley more than 100 years ago, faithfully irrigating and working the soil. Eventually, they transformed the dry, sagebrush-dotted landscape into fields blooming with healthy crops.

Instrumental to Powell’s beginning, agriculture also plays an important role in where the community is going.

Locally, we’ve reported on two promising agricultural developments in the past week.

The barley storage and processing facilities in Ralston and Powell were sold last week to a Wisconsin company known for its specialty malts in the craft beer industry.

The quality and consistency of the region’s barley crop attracted Briess Malt & Ingredients to this area. When Briess marked its 135th anniversary in 2011, the company created a special malt called Goldpils Vienna, made entirely from barley from our region. Briess’ investment in Ralston and Powell is a testament to local growers’ hard work and quality crop.

Another exciting development in the works is Gluten Free Oats’ expansion after it acquired a Utah oat processing company. Gluten Free Oats will now process and distribute individually packaged cups of flavored oatmeal to buyers around the world.

Gluten-free products have continued to grow in popularity in recent years as more people are diagnosed with celiac disease or decide to adopt a gluten-free diet. From 2008 to 2012, America’s gluten-free industry saw an annual growth rate of 28 percent, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts. The report estimated the American market for gluten-free products reached $4.2 billion last year.

Gluten Free Oats started in Powell as a high school FFA project and has since grown into an international business, supporting local growers and circulating money back through our economy.

On the livestock side, Park County has another reason to be proud of its agricultural success. Scott George is leading the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association this year, representing 230,000 cattle breeders, producers and feeders across America. George’s parents homesteaded between Powell and Cody in 1947, starting the George Dairy in 1954. The George brothers established a beef cattle herd about 10 years ago, and the family business continues to thrive.

As growers plant fields in coming weeks, we’re reminded of the success they’ve had in recent years. Last fall’s sugar beet harvest was called “nearly ideal.” It fell just shy of the record-setting harvest in 2011. We hope 2013 brings another successful growing season for all crop varieties.

As our country celebrates the 40th annual National Agriculture Day, thank a local grower or livestock producer for making Powell the community it is.

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