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Toolbox Grows New Strategies For Utah Farmers

Utahns want to preserve agriculture, and now there are new tools to help accomplish that goal.

Rex Larsen grows alfalfa, corn and seed barley and raises cattle on his farm west of Spanish Fork. He’s fifth generation and thinking about retiring.

“That’s a real challenge for me as I look at the future.”

Larsen’s got to figure out how to support a retirement. He’d also like to keep the farm alive, but his children aren’t prepared to take on the farm.

“It’s been a part of my life to be involved in planting and harvesting and making a difference in the world, and I would love to have that opportunity for the next generation,” Larsen says, “but there’s also the realities we need to look at.”

Larsen could switch to higher value crops. But that might take more water than he has.

And while there’s overwhelming support to preserve -- and even grow -- agriculture in Utah, farmland is shrinking, especially in fertile northern Utah. But now  there’s a new effort to reverse that trend.

Strategies for protecting agriculture are included in a new toolbox developed by the planning group, Envision Utah. In its Your Utah, Your Future opinion survey of more than 50,000, the group found that more than 95 percent support locally grown food.

“There are things like taking advantage of existing tax benefits and loan programs,” says Ari Bruening, Envision Utah’s chief operating officer. “There are things like cities growing more compactly. That compact growth uses less land, uses less water, which means there’s more left for agriculture.

A package of ideas like these has been in the works for years. The Utah County Agriculture Toolbox will be unveiled Thursday.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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