BOISE, Idaho — Not only has red meat production declined in Idaho during the last decade, according to the Idaho Cattle Association, the US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service added red meat production at Idaho packing plants in October was down 80 percent from the same time last year at 3.5 million lbs.

Bill Brockman, former president of Magic Valley Cattlemen's Association, told the Idaho Business Review many factors are behind this sharp drop including the loss of grazing lands, plus irrigated land is being used to raise more profitable crops instead of cattle feed and that has led to substantially higher feed costs. Closing meat packing plants has been another problem for Idaho producers. In 2006, a Boise plant closed, and in June another, XL Four Star Beef in Nampa, closed.

As a result, producers have to drive out of state, he said. "And that cuts into your profit. It makes it difficult to stay in business," he added.

A lot of the cattle raised in Idaho were already being shipped to Utah and Washington for slaughter, but XL's closure is forcing many to transport some cattle even longer distances and that is adding to already high fuel prices, said John Ricketts, Idaho Cattle Association board member.

Brockman said the closest plants for Idaho producers now are in Pasco, Wash., Tolleson, Ariz., or Fresno, Calif.

Producers are trying to forge trade agreements with Pacific Rim countries, such as South Korea, Ricketts said. "We're making alliances and marketing smarter and we're seeing that pay off," he added.