Letter: Growing alfalfa is undoubtedly good for the farmers, but what happens when the lake dries up?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Baled alfalfa at Bailey Farms in Ephraim on Thursday, March 2, 2023.

A recent Tribune article on alfalfa quotes Professor Daniel Sumner saying, in effect, that Utah should grow alfalfa because it’s good at it and farmers can make a lot of money, so it’s “good for the local economy.”

I hesitate to differ from a distinguished professor of economics, especially when he’s talking about his specialty, but I don’t think he is taking a holistic view.

Growing alfalfa is undoubtedly good for the farmers, but not necessarily of much benefit to the local economy because of what economists refer to as “opportunity costs” — the benefits that could have accrued from that water if it had been used for other purposes.

Obviously a main competing use in Utah is tourism and recreation. What are the foregone benefits if the Great Salt Lake dries up, the Wasatch Front is enveloped in toxic dust storms, tourists choose to go somewhere else, lake effect snow is diminished or eliminated, the ski resorts have to depend on artificial snow, and the Winter Olympics are awarded to a different city?

I’m not saying that he is necessarily wrong, just that it seems a very superficial conclusion.

Richard Middleton, Salt Lake City

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