MONTEVIEW The Ward family farm is rural, even for Idaho.
Dave Ward farms more than 4,000 acres of wheat and lush alfalfa, which pop vibrantly from the drab and dry high desert.
Most of the farm is 12 miles west of Dubois, which has fewer than 700 residents. Many of its Main Street storefronts are boarded up.
Ward runs the farm with sons MaCoy, 26, and Colby, 22.
The trio stood knee-deep in alfalfa last month and talked farming. MaCoy Ward grabbed a handful and explained how they must pick the alfalfa before purple flowers bud from the green shoots.
Dave Ward said hes proud that his sons will take over the operation, but he understands why fewer country boys are sticking around these days to work the family farm.
Some of (the local young people) leave, and some of them come back, Dave Ward said. Its harder for the younger guys to keep it going. It costs so much to do anything anymore.
Idaho agriculture was built on family farms, but they are becoming increasingly rare, said Will Jenson, regional labor economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.
The 18-to-24 age group is growing more slowly than the general population in eight of 10 eastern Idaho counties.
Butte, Bingham, Fremont and Lemhi counties have a smaller percentage of young adults today than in 2000. Many are leaving for cities, Jenson said.
Agriculture industry changes prompted that trend, Jenson said. Technology has allowed farms to take on more acreage with less manpower, leaving less room for family operations.
In many cases, farms have been in families for generations, but its becoming increasingly difficult for families to stay in the farming business without (their farming operations) becoming extremely large, Jenson said.
Mud Lake farmer Gary Skidmore said fewer West Jefferson High School graduates are buying farmland or taking over family operations.
Skidmores only son, Blake Skidmore, is playing college basketball at the University of Westminster after a successful stint at Big Bend Community College.
Skidmore said hed like to see his son return to Jefferson County after college and take over the 3,000-acre potato, wheat and alfalfa farm, but he understands if Blake wants to do something else.
Although the past few years have been profitable, farming remains a year-to-year gamble.
Its such a roller coaster, Skidmore said. What do I want for my son? I sort of want him to farm. But on the same token, I dont know.
In 2011, Idaho farmers and ranchers saw their net income rise 88 percent to $2.6 billion, according to a Jan. 5 Idaho Statesman article. Cash receipts shot up 29 percent to $7.4 billion in 2011.
The gains were made possible because strong prices and increased production overshadowed rising fuel and fertilizer prices.
Farms growing with technology do a different kind of business now, Dave Ward said.
Farmers require more technical and business knowledge to handle the bigger operations. All three Wards attended Idaho State University agribusiness classes to help keep their operation up-to-date. That means more computer work, GPS training and understanding of the commodities game.
It used to be, you just worried about feeding the cows, making sure stuff was done, Dave Ward said. Now, its an everyday deal. Its more global.
Seth Pratt grew up on a cattle farm north of Blackfoot. The 21-year-old studies agribusiness at the University of Idaho and serves as national western region vice president for FFA.
Pratt said he wants to work in the corporate beef world for several years. But he also wants to raise his children on a ranch in Bingham County.
The population shift of young adults to cities is simple math, Pratt said.
According to the FFA, one farmer produced enough food to feed 14 people at the turn of the 20th century. Today, one farmer feeds 155 people.
Todays agriculture requires specialists, Pratt said.
Idaho has fewer farmers but more animal nutritionists, plant geneticists, food scientists and many other agriculture jobs peripheral to farming.
A lot of those jobs happen in towns because they have a base office, Pratt said. They are still agriculture. They are still helping farmers. But its not a field job, its an office job.
The allure of city life isnt compelling farmers sons to move to Idaho Falls, Boise or other cities, Pratt said. Instead, its the lack of agricultural opportunity in their hometowns.
Overwhelmingly, theyd like to stay there, Pratt said. There is just not enough there for them. Ive hardly talked to a farm kid who didnt say he wanted to go back. But many arent (going back).
MaCoy Ward lived in Idaho Falls for a year while taking electrician classes. That was enough of a city for Ward, who moved back to the family farm.
In town, it seemed like I was bored worse than I was here, he said. In town, there are so many rules.
You can only go bowling so many times. You have a little more freedom out here, I guess.