With the drought, limited water resources, and an ever-increasing population, what does the future of agriculture look like in Utah? This question was addressed during the panel, “Building Utah’s Agriculture Future,” held during the 2021 Utah Farm Bureau Annual Convention. 

The panel was moderated by Utah Farm Bureau President Ron Gibson and panelists included Stuart Adams, president of the Utah State Senate; Stephen Lisonbee, senior advisor to the governor for rural affairs for Governor Spencer Cox; Ken White, Utah State University Extension vice president and dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences; Representative Ryan Wilcox, and Craig Buttars, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). 

Each panelist offered their own insight into the future of agriculture in Utah and suggested steps that would help farmers and ranchers position themselves for continued success in the future. 

One suggestion was to recognize the importance of communication and increasing communication efforts between farmers and consumers. 

“It’s going to be important for us to educate the public. We don’t want to go to the public and say, ‘well, you don’t understand’ because that closes the door,” Buttars said. “We need to help people understand what we as agricultural producers do. Educating the public is going to position ourselves so that when a controversy comes up, they will know that agriculture and agriculture producers are being honest and upfront.” 

Thanks to the pandemic, people are gaining a greater understanding of where their food comes from. Communication and education, Wilcox said, are key to keeping people thinking about farmers and ranchers. 

“We have to amp up the communication piece because the vast majority of our population doesn’t make the connection between where our food is produced and what is on their plate,” Wilcox said. 

When it comes to creating a plan for the future of agriculture in Utah, Senator Adams said it is crucial to communicate the important role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy. 

“We hear all about Silicon Slopes and the economic impact and that we want to bring IT jobs into the state,” Adams said. “Twenty-two percent of our GDP is in farming, and we need to tell that story. We need to let people know what we are a part of the economy.”

Panelists also discussed the need for more infrastructure in the state that would support agriculture, also known as agri-structure. Additional agri-structure could help protect agriculture’s role in the economy, as well as make it possible for more Utah-grown products to stay in the state. 

“When you think about the economics of this, it gets really simple,” Lisonbee said. “Everything that is raised and produced in Utah should be processed, packaged and all the additional things that happen should be done in Utah.” 

White agreed.

“We are missing a tremendous opportunity if we can’t put resources together to provide agri-structure to the parts of the state that could really benefit from it,” White said. I can recall various economic development plans the state has run, but I don’t remember a specific program that has targeted agriculture… I would love to see the state lead out in that.”