Who can implement this: Federal, state, and county lawmakers; governmental organizations; advocacy organizations; and agricultural producers
Many individuals face significant barriers when trying to start a career in farming and ranching, such as limited access to lands and markets, inflation of land prices, high costs, and a lack of support networks. The impact of these barriers can be seen on a national scale: from 2002 to 2012, the number of farm operators who were 75 years old and older grew by 20 percent, while the number of operators under 25 decreased 30 percent.
Beginning farmers often struggle to afford the initial cost of buying land. One of the most significant barriers to entry, land prices are rising in much of Utah County. As a result, alternative land-acquisition and land-leasing programs are emerging as a crucial resource for farmers who are unable begin farming or ranching through traditional avenues.
New farmers and ranchers often have difficulty receiving financial aid, especially if they do not have the assets needed to invest in a farm or an established and extensive track record in the industry. Farmers who want to farm using less traditional methods or utilize new farming technologies can find it even more challenging to secure loans and funding.
Existing farmers also need resources to help support their businesses. Financial resources need to be expanded to assist farmers who are established assets in local agriculture. More resources are needed to meet the financial realities of farming in Utah and to properly incentivize farming.
Many small-scale farmers find it difficult to make agricultural production a profitable business. Farming has traditionally been a risky enterprise because of inconsistent income and the constant risks of crop loss, price collapses, significant weather events, and external price fluctuations. Financial assistance helps farmers overcome these obstacles and continue farming.
- Utah County lawmakers, governmental organizations, and farming organizations should organize a summit to connect young farmers to older farmers. The summit would provide younger farmers with mentors and encourage older farmers to pass on knowledge about local farming to the next generation. This summit could also pair farmers with organizations that administer financial-assistance programs.
- Nonprofit and governmental organizations should examine available strategies and determine which resources fit well together, where gaps exist, and where additional outreach and education is needed to help connect farmers and ranchers to financial resources.
- It is recommended that farm organizations like the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Utah Farm Bureau coordinate together to streamline state and federal financial programs. Existing programs for farmers and ranchers should not require complicated applications or extended processes. Financial programs, grants, and loans often target practicing farmers, who often do not have the time for lengthy application processes. These organizations should make changes to ensure that existing programs are easily accessible to most farmers.
- It is recommended that state and county lawmakers establish additional land-acquisition and land-leasing programs to increase beginning farmers’ opportunities to access lands.
- Major private and public landowners in Utah County should consider leasing vacant land to beginning farmers to increase the county’s agricultural output and provide beginning farmers with valuable experience with small-scale agricultural production.
- Financial assistance for Utah farmers is primarily available at the federal level. The state and county should establish new financial programs to encourage farming in Utah County and to remove some of the challenges facing farmers in the region. As opposed to nationwide resources, local programs can be more tailored and targeted to the needs of farmers in Utah County. Utah County commissioners and the Utah State Legislature should consider expanding assistance programs for farmers in Utah Valley as well as the rest of the state.
- It is recommended that lawmakers and farm organizations work to create additional programs to fulfill identified needs and find ways to help existing farmers be more financially secure and profitable.
New Mexico has hosted several farming and ranching summits that have successfully connected new agricultural producers with older farmers and spread knowledge of new and more efficient farming practices. The New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, for example, is a yearly farming summit that focuses on sharing experience and expertise through workshops and sessions.
Utah State University Extension has hosted farm and ranching workshops, though they have not been held consistently and future summits would ideally be larger and involve more ranchers and farmers.
In 2015, Salt Lake County launched Farmlink, a program focused on connecting interested urban farmers with vacant lands that could be used for food production. These lands are either privately owned or publically owned by entities such as Salt Lake County or a municipality. The program was incentivized through property tax reductions for landowners who were willing to lease their land for urban commercial farming.