With the wave of incoming legislation, industry associations from across the state are carefully watching the Utah Legislature for bills that may affect members, the business owners, managers and entrepreneurs alike. That fact is true for Utah farmers and ranchers as well, with state legislators considering a variety of regulations and laws that could impact everything from eminent domain to water rights.
In Summit County especially, agriculturally based business accounts for hundreds of thousands of acres, and that number is growing. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms and ranches grew to 629, up 13 percent from 2003 numbers. In acreage, farms and ranches account for 414,928 acres, an increase of 10 percent from 2003. In short, the legislation affecting the large number of farms and ranches in the county will also affect the local economy.
But for many farmers and ranchers in the local area, keeping on top of all the issues requires a hefty time commitment on a stretched-thin schedule.
"On issues such as these, my information comes from the emails I am sent," said County Councilman Chris Robinson, who also is a co-owner of Ensign Ranch in the Snyderville Basin. " Like any business, I am grateful these organizations are down there on the Hill, that industries and trade groups are keeping an eye out for farmers and ranchers.
"I don't have time to personally monitor every bill filed. But even if I don't agree with a position, at least it is called to my attention."
The Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the nonprofit association fighting to protect the agricultural industry in Utah, released a list of potential issues looming for farmers and ranchers. After members of the association attended the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Washington, D.C., the association released the list, which covered a wide swath of impending legislation including both the state and federal levels.
"When it comes to legislative matters, we are attentive to a number of issues such as private property rights, water rights, land rights, water quality, eminent domain and tax issues that would affect Utah farmers and ranchers," said Sterling Brown, the UFBF Vice President. "Given that broad base, every year there are a number of issues on Capitol Hill this year, just like past years."
Regulatory burdens, a major concern of the association, are an ongoing issue from year to year. Proposed regulations that could impact the sustainability of farms and ranches involve "air quality, the management of water rights and water quality," according to the list, specifically air quality concerns impacting the Wasatch Front potentially being applied statewide to rural areas. Several bills are attempting to deal with water rights and the ability to move water from agriculture to municipal and industrial uses, with the UFBF believing water right transaction should take place between a willing buyer and willing seller.
"As Utah continues to grow, there is more and more pressure to convert agriculture water to municipal and industrial uses," Brown said. "But how do we do that? How do we convert water in such a way that allows for a sustainable agricultural industry throughout state?"
"Utah's history has depended on a safe, reliable water supply," he added. " Farmers and ranchers rely on it. We want to maintain healthy reservoirs and other sources throughout the state to produce safe reliable food source for both Utahns and Americans."