With a modified Utah general legislative session in full swing, the Utah Farm Bureau continues to work on policy priorities identified recently. Utah Farm Bureau staff and elected leaders advocate on positions from 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 for our lawmakers 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 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.”
While not exhaustive, the following are some of the main issues Utah Farm Bureau is focusing on this legislative session.
1. Protecting Livestock
After a dramatic increase in livestock being illegally shot this past year, Utah Farm Bureau is working to increase penalties for individuals who shoot livestock and provides legal protection for livestock guardian dogs. HB 166 by Rep. Casey Snider of Cache County has sponsored this bill, and it looks to have strong support.
2. Water Issues
As is the case every year, there are a number of legislative proposals dealing with issues ranging from the funding of water projects, administrative authority of water conservancy districts, the Colorado River, and more. A bill with potentially major implications for water statewide water management has been introduced by House Speaker Brad Wilson. HB 297 (Colorado River Amendments) will create a new state entity called the “Colorado River Authority”. It will be overseen by a 6-member board who will have “authority to protect, conserve, use, and develop Utah’s waters of the Colorado River system”. Farm Bureau Supports the continued development of Utah’s share of the Colorado River and will be working to make sure agriculture has a strong voice in the Colorado River Authority. The Colorado River system provides water to a majority of Utah, including several Wasatch front counties through the Central Utah water project, and potentially to St. George through the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. Several western states also receive water from the Colorado River, and this bill is an attempt to make sure Utah properly receives and manages our share of the water.
3. Property Rights
With an increasing number of counties passing local ordinances that could limit agricultural practices, the Utah Farm Bureau has been working with legislative leaders and the Utah Association of Counties to find a compromise. Senate Bill 130, Regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, by Senator Scott Sandall defines Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and requires each county to adopt an ordinance determining the geographic area where a large, concentrated animal feeding operation may be located. The CAFO siting bill represents compromises from both sides of the issue and has strong support in the legislature.
There are numerous other bills the Utah Farm Bureau is monitoring, on issues such as wildlife management, invasive species, wildfire management, soil health, hemp, and more. To be up-to-date on legislative and policy issues, click HERE.
Farmer and rancher delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 102nd Annual Convention recently adopted policies to guide the organization’s work in 2021. Key topics ranged from farm diversity to farm labor and dairy policy to livestock marketing. For the first time in AFBF history, delegates met and voted virtually due to COVID-19.
Delegates updated labor policy, emphasizing the importance of reforming the H-2A program by expanding the program to provide visa workers for both seasonal and year-round employment. An expanded program would address workforce shortages and extend the program to operations that do not currently qualify to employ guest workers, like dairy farms.
The Holcomb plant fire and the COVID-19 pandemic caused meat prices to skyrocket while the price paid to farmers dropped. AFBF delegates voted to provide stability in markets by supporting efforts to increase negotiated sales in fed cattle markets. Delegates also called for increased transparency in livestock pricing.
Milk price volatility was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in financial damages to dairy farmers in excess of $2.5 billion. Delegates updated dairy policy to call for re-examining the 2018 farm bill’s modification to the milk price formula, improving equity in USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order revenue sharing pools, and reaffirmed their support for allowing dairy farmers the opportunity to cast an individual and confidential ballot during milk order referendums.
Other national issues the American Farm Bureau continues to focus on include labor reform, expansion of rural broadband access, enforcement of trade agreements and expansion of foreign markets, tax reform, regulatory reform, and more.