The Utah Farm Bureau has released its list of ‘Issues to Watch For in 2016’ upon returning from the national agricultural convention for the American Farm Bureau Federation and at the start of the 2016 Utah general legislative session.
Though not exhaustive in scope, the list is based off the Farm Bureaus policy book, adopted at its recent convention in November. The policy book will guide the general farm and ranch organization’s public policy actions throughout the upcoming year – including the current legislative session.
“It is important to note the policies advocated and defended by the Utah Farm Bureau come from the grassroots level, from actual farmers and ranchers on the ground and in the trenches – not simply from the ideas of one leader or board,” said Ron Gibson, a dairy farmer from Weber County and newly-elected President of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. “These policies are developed through debate and deliberation in response to issues felt on the farms of the smallest towns as well as in the families of the largest cities in Utah.”
1. Regulatory Burdens
Ensuring that Utah’s farmers and ranchers do not face undue or over-burdensome regulations on the state and national level (regarding labor, air quality, water, etc.) is an issue to watch in 2016. Current or proposed regulations that could impact the sustainability of farmers and ranchers are of great concern because they threaten the ability of farmers and ranchers to make the long-term planning decisions necessary in agriculture.
2. Water Issues
We expect there to be 11 water bills proposed, dealing with issues ranging from the funding of water projects, adjudication of water rights, and more. One of the most important will deal with creating an ongoing revenue source to handle the millions of water infrastructure projects that currently go unfunded. To do this, Utah Farm Bureau supports increasing the dedicated portion of sales tax toward water development from the current 1/16th cent back to the original 1/8th cent. This could generate an estimated $30 million in additional funds toward badly needed water development projects. With population booms continuing and water a scarce resource, discussions and actions must happen properly plan for future water infrastructure and the funding required.
With Utah’s population doubling in the next several decades, the pressure to transfer and convert agriculture water to municipal and industry use will intensify. As these pressures mount, sustaining a vibrant production agriculture industry and a growing rural Utah economy is essential. In addition, today’s local, county and state government must act now to position the coming generations of food and fiber producers a reliable and adequate water development and distribution system.
3. Air Quality
Air quality is a topic of debate during the legislature, especially when cold winter months help produce visible air pollution. However, recent attempts at regulating emissions – including burn bans in Wasatch Front communities – are challenging because not all communities are created equal. Eliminating wood burning from a Sugarhouse home that likes the look of a wood stove is entirely different than a family in Corinne that relies on the stove to heat their home.
Utah Farm Bureau supports the development of state voluntary and incentive-based guidelines to assist local officials in establishing air quality ordinances and regulations.
4. Property Rights
Conservation easements and eminent domain have and will continue to be tools to preserve and take away agriculture lands. Maintaining property rights in a growing economy is paramount. Transitioning ownership of land and water must occur under a willing-seller/willing-buyer agreement. In a state with limited private property, these rights need to be safeguarded.
As Utah Farm Bureau begins this new calendar year with the state legislative session and then follows-up with the many planting, nurturing and harvesting decisions of the growing season, its public policy process will lead the way in helping government and community leaders understand the needs of a successful agriculture industry and how too support it.