Task force outlines plan to help Utah’s farmers

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah must create ways to protect its agriculture industry as population growth is expected to drive the development of nearly 200,000 additional acres of farmland in the state by 2030, a state panel says.The state also needs to boost invasive species control by $1 million, provide funds for conservation easements and support a guest worker program for immigrants, according to the Utah Agriculture Sustainability Task Force.Legislation or incentives are needed to encourage stores, restaurants and schools to buy local, the panel said.The task force this week released a list of 29 recommendations for producers, consumers and state and local governments aimed at protecting farms, ranches, farm families and “most importantly, the communities that are served by the benefits of Utah agriculture.” The report followed a seven-month study.”Utah is among the fastest-growing states in the country,” Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said. “We welcome the growth, but we must prepare for its impact on agriculture.”Bell said he was pleased the recommendations promote self-reliance and economic growth with an eye toward preserving farmland and the state’s heritage.Most new development is expected to occur on some of the state’s most productive farmland in Wasatch Front counties, according to a 2008 Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget report.”We must recognize that we cannot continue the path we have been taking with regards to protecting our prime farmland and expect different results,” said Leonard Blackham, Utah’s agriculture and food commissioner. “Conservation easements are a needed option if we wish to protect our access to locally grown fruits and vegetables.”Several members of the task force had concerns about using conservation easements and voted against a recommendation to provide matching funds for the easements on productive agricultural lands with prime or locally important soils.The task force also suggested each county develop incubator kitchens to provide small-scale agricultural startups with a place to test new products.Blackham said the recommendations are intended to protect the food supply, which is the most abundant and affordable for consumers than at any other time in history. The 29 steps are designed to reduce dependency on foreign-grown foods and increase the supply of locally grown foods.A complete list of the recommendations is available at

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