Southern Idaho is a land of prosperous farms and recent record investments totaling $800 million from world-class food manufacturers promising 5,000 more jobs to this sparsely populated area. But Republican State Sen. Jim Patrick, whose Twin Falls district is ground zero for both new investments and expansions in the region, is feeling insecure. Patrick and Bob Naerebout, who heads the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, were meeting with the Senate Agriculture Affairs Committee on Monday over two new unpublished bills, one related to “agriculture security” and the other about “dairy standards.” Patrick has already introduced Senate Bill 1298 involving “interference with agriculture production,” which was supposed to get a public hearing today. However, in some agenda shuffling, the Agriculture Affairs Committee has opted to hear Patrick’s new bill relating to agriculture security instead. When published, that measure will be known as Senate Bill 1337. While Southern Idaho has gained fame for almost back-to-back announcement of food industry investments during the past couple of years, there was also the Dry Creek Dairy near Murtaugh, which, in August 2012, gained notoriety as the target of an undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals (MFA), a Los Angeles-based animal welfare group. Mercy’s undercover investigator brought out video footage documenting apparent animal abuse occurring at the dairy. Then last year, animal rights activists released 5,000 mink from a Burley farm, raising the demand from Southern Idaho agricultural interests for better security against actions they view as forms of “domestic terrorism.” Idaho has a “Right to Farm” law that is supposed to protect agriculture from nuisances, but Patrick and Naerebout are not satisfied that it goes far enough when it comes to protecting Idaho’s $2.5-billion dairy industry. Patrick’s first security bill, SB 1298, makes no distinction between someone who enters an agricultural production facility by force from one who enters by “misrepresentation or trespass.” Those investigating animal abuse have been known to lie about their true identify to obtain employment and access. Under SB 1298, whether one busts into a facility or tells a fib to get there, they could land in jail for one year and face fines of up to $5,000 for each offense. The court would also be required to impose restitution on the guilty party at a rate double the amount of the actual losses involved. Like other “ag-gag” bills that were introduced last year, the Idaho bill makes it illegal to make either audio or video recordings without the express permission of the owner. The Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, which led efforts to defeat “ag-gag” bills in 11 states last year, is trying to persuade the Idaho Legislature with Internet TV messages. Six states, including neighboring Utah, have adopted “ag-gag” laws. States that have adopted such measures have usually done so on the strength of one or more major state ag organizations such as the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. Whether the Utah “ag-gag” law passes constitutional muster won’t be known until at least May 15. The state is defending the law and has demanded that a federal judge toss the challenge to the law for lack of standing. The Utah case, however, is unlikely to impact Idaho since the two states are in different federal court circuits. Chobani’s $450-million investment in the world’s largest yogurt-making plant at Twin Falls is also the largest dairy industry project in Idaho history. It was been followed by a $160-million Clif Bar & Co. plant, also in Twin Falls; a $100-million expansion of a potato-processing plant at Burley, and the $30-million investment of a Portuguese fruit processor, the Frulact Group, in a plant near Rupert. Then there’s Glanbia Foods’ $15-million cheese plant and headquarters in Twin Falls, the $9.2 million Monsanto has invested in the Wheat Technology Center at Filer, and the $9-million infant formula plant at Rupert by the Calva/Brewster Partnership.