Agriculture plays a vital role in Utah County’s history and heritage. Many of us have eaten the delicious cherries, peaches and apples that come from the shrinking number of orchards in Utah County. There are a number of fruits and vegetable that can only be grown in areas where the microclimate is favorable and many of these areas are found in Utah County. Utah County has higher agricultural cash receipts than any other county in the state but that number is declining. Additionally, Utah County is number one for total berry sales in the State of Utah. It is also the number one county in acreage for tart cherries, apples, sweet cherries, pears, peaches and raspberries in the state.
I have said it in the past and I will say it again, we cannot conduct business as usual with a state population that is projected to double by 2050. Utah County’s population is predicted to double by 2040, a full 10 years ahead of the state.
Utah is losing its agricultural land at an alarming rate. In 1987, Utah had 14,000 fruit acres in production; by 2006 there were only 6,600 acres and those numbers are dropping every year. The pressure on farmers and ranchers to sell prime land to developers continues to grow. As Utah County continues to grow, it will be more difficult to provide a source of local foods that is sufficient to feed even a fraction of the county’s rapidly growing population let alone the state as a whole. We need to work together to ensure that the rich heritage of Utah County’s agriculture does not become just a history.
The public demand for preserving agriculture and self-sufficiency as a state is statistically significant. In a recent Envision Utah 2014 study, 3/4 of respondents felt that farming and ranching are “critical” to the future of the State. That is up from the 53 percent that felt strongly in 2007. In a short seven year period 21 percent more Utahns believe that farming is critical to the future of the state. Additionally, 98 percent of Utahns want to increase food self-sufficiency from agriculture by putting more land into production and/or changing crops to fruits and vegetables. Utahns feel that preserving and expanding agriculture is important to the quality of life in our state.
Planning, conservation initiatives and government intervention have a small impact in preserving agriculture. The best way to truly preserve agriculture in Utah County is to make it more profitable. Increased profits create stability in the industry, entice new generations to join the workforce and protect a precious resource.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food is working with leaders in agriculture, local, county and state government and civic minded non-profit groups to address the preservation of agriculture in Utah County. The Committee cares about the future of agriculture in Utah County and the state of Utah as a whole. We are creating a toolbox of strategies and ideas that can be implemented to help farmers, lawmakers and other concerned residents make meaningful, positive changes to benefit the future of agriculture in the county and state.
Many of the strategies we are discussing have been used with great success in other parts of the country. The strategies will help make agriculture more economically viable. They will help lawmakers and other decision makers to keep existing agricultural lands and water in the county and will encourage better land use patterns that support agriculture and farmers. This is all done in a way that preserves the unique heritage and history of agriculture in the county.
I urge you, the residents of Utah County, to show your support of local agriculture. Go to your local farmers market and support local agricultural and food businesses. Local businesses are owned by the people who live and love Utah County – they are your neighbors, friends and family. Ensure a better future for them and for your county by investing in local products and businesses and by voicing your support to you elected officials. We cannot and will not allow the precious agricultural heritage of Utah County to become history.
Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food