It is often said that the best part of the Young Farmers and Ranchers program is the opportunity to get to know individuals throughout our state who share our dreams and desires to be a part of agriculture.
One of the common themes when I meet with and talk to young farmers and ranchers is the desire to own a farm and continue the legacy that dad and grandpa lived. One of the main limiting factors over the last few decades that has crippled farm and ranch succession to the next generation has been the ever-increasing price of land in Utah. Others have included high input costs and generally low prices in agricultural commodities. When considering if the next generation should buy the land, how many times have we heard, “There is just no way the farm will pay for itself”? My message to any young farmer or rancher is that there is a way and the opportunity is here.
I recently heard from a neighbor that there is a single county in Illinois that has more farmland in production than the entire state of Utah. I considered that comment for weeks and I couldn’t help thinking, with a heavy heart, how small and insignificant agriculture seems in our state. Then it hit me. The future opportunities for those in agriculture to be successful in our state are tremendous. It’s just good old-fashioned economics. Supply and demand.
Recently, Utah was ranked #1 in the U.S. for population growth over the last decade. Utah has also repeatedly been listed as one of the top economies in the U.S. Let’s face it, for better or for worse, a lot people want to live in Utah. In fact, Utah’s Wasatch Front is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. What does all this mean for Utah agriculture? There will be a lot of hungry people and a relatively small amount of arable land to produce that food.
If we continue the comparison, we find that the state of Illinois farmland has approximately 20,149,000 acres of farmland, compared with about 806,500 acres in Utah. This means we have about four percent as much farmland in Utah as they do in Illinois. Utah has about 24 percent as many people as Illinois and therefore about 600 percent more people per acre of crop land. In looking to the future, Utah has seen a steady 10-14 percent growth over the last decade, while the population in Illinois is declining.
On top of steady population growth, Utah is geographically located in what I like to call, “an island of hungry people.” Shawn Miller from the Deseret News recently explained the importance of Utah grown food by stating, “Only Hawaii and Alaska are farther than [Utah is] from the food they eat.” With transportation of food becoming more expensive each year, the need for locally-grown food will continue to increase. “Locally grown food is becoming increasingly popular in our state and I believe that trend will continue,” says Leigh Vaughn, Associated Foods Produce Manager in a meeting with onion growers in Northern Utah.
With the continual increase in demand for local food and a limited amount of good farm and ranch land to grow that food, I believe that there is a wonderful future in Utah agriculture. I believe that the opportunity is here to continue that legacy of growing food and making good money doing it.
A slogan that I have remembered from Utah State University’s Huntsman’s School of Business is ‘Dare Mighty Things.’ Let us ‘Dare Mighty Things’ as we seek out new ways to create financially viable farms and ranches! Through the use of new methods and crops, new or niche markets, diversification, new types of water conservation, and a lot of hard work, I believe that “the farm can pay for itself” and that Utah is one of the best places to do it.