Utah Agriculture: Nourishing OUR Sustainable Future

Sponsored: Farmers and ranchers have long been considered the original conservationists. Working day in and day out, cultivating the many resources provided by mother nature, no one is closer to the Earth than those working in agriculture and because the livelihood of these farmers and ranchers is dependent on it and its resources.

(The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, sponsored) Tart Cherry Harvest in Utah County.

Farmers and ranchers have long been considered the original conservationists. Working day in and day out, cultivating the many resources provided by mother nature, no one is closer to the Earth than those working in agriculture and because the livelihood of these farmers and ranchers is dependent on it and its resources. No one knows better than farmers and ranchers about the need to take care of the earth’s resources and ensure it is sustainable for future generations. They are constantly innovating and improving their practices to better protect and benefit the land, while continuing to provide food and fiber for the United States and the world.

Modern agriculture may look a little different than what most people envision. We no longer live in a world where the majority of the population farm small plots of land to support their families and maybe a few others, rather modern agriculture is made up of 2% of the U.S. population farming and ranching larger plots of land, growing the food and fiber for the remaining 98%. Despite the increase in size, 95% of these farms remain family owned and operated.

(The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, sponsored) Tremonton Farmer examines the health of his soil

Size isn’t the only difference in modern agriculture either. The farming and ranching practices have changed significantly as well. Agriculture is innovative in the way it utilizes modern science and technology to sustainably use the land’s resources and grow our food more efficiently. From creating ways for water to flow efficiently through canal and irrigation systems, to studying soil health and finding the best practices to protect the soil that is used, Utah farmers and ranchers work hard to protect the resources they use.

For example, on most dairy farms, water is reused many times over. First, water is used to cool down milk in holding tanks to get it to a safe temperature. Once the water is used there, it is reused as fresh water for the dairy cows to drink - fun fact, dairy cows enjoy drinking warm water. Other water is reused to clean pens and flush animal waste to waste management tanks. This is intentional, wise use of water.

In Utah, we raise a large amount of livestock, mainly beef cattle, sheep, and horses. Because over 70% of Utah’s land is federally owned and is held as national forest or national parks, this land is not able to be cultivated to grow crops. Left to sit and unmanaged, these lands could become very dangerous, creating perfect conditions for wildfires and other hazards to occur. By utilizing this land and other non-productive farmland to graze livestock, it helps to manage plant growth and prevents invasive species. Livestock also return essential nutrients to the soil through their natural fertilization processes. We are proud to say that Utah ranchers help keep our forests and other lands happy and healthy.

(The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, sponsored) Northern Utah Rancher Examines his crop.

Growing crops is also beneficial to our Earth in many ways. When done correctly, cultivating the ground provides nutrients to the soil, reduces erosion, refills underground water aquifers through the irrigated water, reduces CO2 in the air through carbon sequestration, and cools the Earth’s temperature. Without irrigated crop land, much of Utah’s terrain would become dry and desert-like, making our temperatures rise significantly. This would also be the case if irrigated land were to be covered by homes and blacktop. Modern day crop farming also implements practices such as cover crops and no till farming to improve the health and life of the soil.

Some of the major crops grown by Utah farmers include wheat, barley, corn, safflower, and hay crops, such as alfalfa. We can’t forget our beloved fruit farms, which are world renowned for their tart cherries, peaches, and apples. Utah is also seeing an increase in vegetable production, though not as plentiful as other growing regions, as good soil and climate for vegetable growth is hard to find in Utah. These farms provide us with food sources, either directly to our grocery stores for consumption, or indirectly by feeding livestock such as dairy and beef cattle that provide us with food.

We wouldn’t be able to grow these crops in a high desert state such as Utah, where water is often scarce, without sustainable irrigation practices. No one feels the hurt from drought more than farmers and ranchers. They know that their livelihoods, their jobs, their families, their animals, and all of us depend on water that is used on farms and ranches. However, keeping up with new technologies and equipment is expensive and often not doable for many farms. This has not deterred farmers in Utah from moving forward.

(The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, sponsored) Water Optimization Project to Improve Water Efficiency on Farm.

The Agricultural Water Optimization program provided by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), has been one of the most impactful programs to help Utah farmers and ranchers optimize their water use. This program to date has funded 276 projects, totalling an estimated savings of 172,513 acre feet of water each year - that’s over 56 billion gallons of water every year! The participation in this program is a great example of how Utah farmers and ranchers are working to be part of the solution to preserving Utah’s natural resources while continuing to benefit the Earth and its people.

All of this considered, there is much more to Utah agriculture than meets the eye. These beautiful open spaces created by farms and ranches are more than just what makes the landscape in Utah unique, they’re what make us BeUTAHful inside and out! Helping our farms and ranches remain a contributing part of our State will continue to deliver impressive results for our environment. Work remains, and continued improvement is needed, but we’re confident that partnering with this two percent, the farmers and ranchers of our state that act as stewards of the land, will not only nourish the population, but also the resources it provides. Utah’s farmers and ranchers are part of the solution to nourishing our sustainable future.