Population growth leads to decrease in Utah County farms

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Celeste Burr cares for the goats on her farm. The family plans to leave their farm in Utah County becuase new housing developments have forced farmers out of the area. (Lisi Merkley)

Celeste Burr said she sat and cried as she watched housing developers tear down her neighbor’s alfalfa farm.

In the five years that the Burr family has farmed on the border of Lehi and Saratoga Springs, they have seen almost all of their neighbors move from their farms because of new homes and condos being built in the area to support the growing population in Utah Valley. 

Now it’s the Burr family’s turn to leave the area and move to Vernon, Utah, where they will have 39 acres of land and plenty of room for their houses, goats, pigs, turkeys and chickens. 

“Everybody’s leaving because (the new developments) are too close,” Burr said. 

Since the housing developments went in, the family has experienced an increase in crime and complaints from neighbors about noise and odors from their farm. Their animals have also gotten sick from the grass clippings that neighbors throw on the Burrs’ property.

“We’re losing our farms,” Burr said. “People are not able to do what they need to on (farms) anymore.”

Utah Valley is expected to continue to grow as more children are born and people move to Utah for work. 

According to a study done by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, the population in Utah County will reach 1.6 million people by 2065 and will be almost equivalent to the population in Salt Lake County.

Dean Miner, an agriculture and finance professor at Utah State University Extension in Utah County, said this population growth will cause the price of land to increase — which can actually be a good thing for farmers.

“For farmers that want to stay in agriculture and have operations that are turning a profit and are doing fine, it’s actually good news,” Miner said. 

However, farmers face problems when neighboring farms sell their property to be developed. They begin to receive complaints from their new neighbors about smells and pesticides, and they also lose the support of the farming community.

Miner pointed to the loss of farm equipment stores in Utah County as one of the challenges farmers who remain in the county face.

“It’s difficult to keep farming when there’s a booming economy that leads to more housing,” Miner said. 

While the county and city governments do their best to balance new developments with agricultural land use, it can be hard to manage these two interests.

Lehi Assistant City Administrator Cameron Boyle said the city is currently reworking the land-use portion of their general plan for the city. 

“Lehi at its heart has always been a farming, agricultural community,” Boyle said. “(Open spaces and farmland) give people the opportunity to continue to live that lifestyle if they choose, but also we are welcoming to other people that are interested in maybe more of a high density.”

Boyle said problems occur when farms are located on the edge of the city on land owned by the county. The best the city can do to prevent problems in this area is to inform new residents of nearby farms.

“What we’re actually seeing is a lot of those farmers are themselves deciding that this is not where they want to continue their property,” Boyle said. “It’s not something that is necessarily something the city is seeking to do, but it is private property owners that are choosing to sell their property and have it developed.”

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