Utah Farm Bureau Lists ‘Issues to Watch For in 2024’
The Utah Farm Bureau has released its list of ‘Issues to Watch For in 2024’ as the 2024 Utah general legislative session begins.
Though not exhaustive in scope, the list is based on the Farm Bureau’s policy book, adopted at its convention in November and national priorities released at the beginning of the national convention – held this week in Salt Lake City. 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 ValJay Rigby, a grain and alfalfa farmer and cattle rancher from Cache 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. Water Issues
It’s no surprise that water issues continue to take center stage at this year’s legislature, as they remain of supreme concern for the Utah Farm Bureau and many Utahns. Coming off one of the busiest years for water legislation last year and an historic snowpack year, Farm Bureau will be focused on a myriad of bills again this year. Among the most successful ways of helping farmers & ranchers become more efficient with their water use in recent years have been the Agricultural Water Optimization grants, administered by the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food (UDAF). We support the Governor’s request for $400,000 in ongoing funding for research related to water efficiencies that farmers & ranchers can use. The multi-year program has seen valued investment the past few years, but will take time to yield water savings that will benefit all Utahns for years to come. Utah Farm Bureau feels that partnering in proven water-saving methods, rather than abandoning certain agricultural practices or pushing litigation as some have called for, are the most effective ways to help agriculture be part of the solution.
Additional efforts will focus on the Great Salt Lake, and codifying definitions of “saved water”. Last year, SB 277 (Water Conservation and Augmentation Amendments) established a process for water users who install agricultural water optimization projects to file applications with the Division of Water Rights to put the “saved water” to another beneficial use. This year’s SB 18 retools those provisions, moving them into the State Engineer’s section of code and adding language clarifying the definition of saved water and the administrative procedures to secure its separate use and protect it from forfeiture. It also clarifies that saved water cannot increase the depletion of the underlying water right.
2. Industry Safeguards
Utah Farm Bureau will focus on several legislative efforts aimed at safeguarding threats to the industry. Chief among them will be supporting the funding of the LeRay McAllister Working Farm and Ranch Fund. Now housed in the UDAF, the fund is a primary mechanism used to fund agricultural land preservation. Chronically underfunded over the years, we support the Governor’s request for $5 million to help preserve rapidly diminishing agricultural lands in Utah.
Another funding request supported by the Utah Farm Bureau is for $1 million to provide grants to small meat, poultry, and fruit and vegetable processors to make immediate impacts to processing capacity to improve local food security. Lastly, Utah Farm Bureau is supporting a $1 million funding request to support the Division of Water Quality’s ‘Agricultural Voluntary Incentive Program’ (AgVIP), which helps farmers and ranchers develop management plans that help maximize crop yields while staying in compliance with state water quality regulations.
3. Liability Protections for Farms & Ranches Engaging in Agritourism
Farms and ranches are becoming increasingly popular places for Utahns and others to visit – both to learn about where their food comes from as well as a fun activity. Along with visiting these farms and ranches come liabilities from areas that are often in rural, unimproved areas that can contain potential sources of injury. After working with industry partners in other states, Utah enhance protections for farmers and ranchers who invite the public onto their land for agritourism activities.
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 to support it.
Farmer and rancher delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 105th Convention will be meeting this week in Salt Lake City to debate and adopt policies to guide the organization’s work in 2024. Key topics for discussion will range from passing a new Farm Bill in 2024 and reforming ag labor rules, to trade and technology policy.
Every American should be urging Congress to pass a new farm bill as a top 2024 priority. This legislation is a critical tool to ensure our nation’s food and farm security and to meet new challenges, continue innovating and advance sustainability goals. While Congress passed an extension of the 2018 farm bill, providing short-term stability and allowing for more time to get revisions right, a new farm bill must be a priority in the new year. Supply chain challenges we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, trade wars and weather disasters are just a few examples of why we need modernized legislation. The farm bill has always been a bipartisan effort and we encourage lawmakers to work in that spirit to get the job done early in 2024.
Securing labor remains one of agriculture’s most frustrating challenges and urgent needs. The H-2A visa program doesn’t provide enough workers to meet the demand of many farms, and a flawed wage calculation system makes it difficult for many farmers to afford help. Farm Bureau has long called for a bipartisan, workable solution for labor reform and while we were unable to find that solution in 2023, it must be a top priority for lawmakers in 2024 to create meaningful labor reform.
Many of the trade issues we faced in 2023 will continue into 2024. The U.S. Trade Representative’s case against Mexico to reverse its ban on biotech corn remains open under the provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). This ban puts food security in Mexico in jeopardy and unfairly disadvantages America’s farmers, who are committed to growing safe and affordable food for families here in the U.S. and around the world. Mexico must live up to its commitments under USMCA.
About the Utah Farm Bureau
The Utah Farm Bureau is the largest general farm and ranch organization in the state with more than 35,000 member families. Its mission is to inspire all Utah families to connect, succeed and grow through the miracle of agriculture. It strives to bring value to every citizen and community through love of God, family, country, and the land through political action, educational and informational means. Learn more at UtahFarmBureau.org.
Want more news on this topic? Farm Bureau members may subscribe for a free email news service, featuring the farm and rural topics that interest them most!