Utah Farm Bureau lists ‘Issues to Watch For in 2015’

Utah Land

SANDY-– Utah Farm Bureau has released its list of ‘Issues to Watch For in 2015’ upon returning from the national agricultural convention for the American Farm Bureau Federation and at the start of the 2015 Utah general legislative session.

Though not exhaustive in scope, the list is based off 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 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 Leland Hogan, a cattle rancher from Tooele and President of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.

“These policies are in response to issues felt on the farm of the smallest town in Utah and through debate and deliberation, have the opportunity to make it to the American Farm Bureau and debated in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.”

State concerns

Regulatory burdens

Ensuring Utah’s farmers and ranchers do not face undue or over-burdensome regulations on the state and national level, regarding labor, air quality, water, etc., is an issue to watch in 2015.

Current or proposed regulations that could impact the sustainability of farmers and ranchers is of great concern because it threatens the ability to make the long-term planning decisions necessary in agriculture.

Water issues

Two Utah Supreme Court decisions have disrupted long-standing change application policies employed by the Utah State water engineer. Lacking legislative clarification, the state engineer and the public will remain in confusion, additional litigation is a certainty and efficiency in governance will suffer as distraction from the issues consumes resources of Utah’s Division of Water Rights.

Farm Bureau supports granting the state water engineer sufficient authority to enforce Utah water law, including consideration of historic water use and/or approving or rejecting change applications.

An additional water issues involves further legislative discussions and action regarding water development and funding. With population booms continuing and water a scarce resource, discussions and actions must happen properly plan for future water infrastructure and the funding required.

With Utah’s population doubling in the next several decades, the pressure to transfer and convert agriculture water to municipal and industry use will intensify. As these pressures mount, sustaining a vibrant production agriculture industry and a growing rural Utah economy is essential.

In addition, current local, county and state government and industry leadership must act now to position the coming generations of food and fiber producers with a reliable and adequate water development and distribution system. Utah Farm Bureau supports increasing the dedicated portion of sales tax towards water development.

Transportation

Maintaining an adequate transportation infrastructure is essential for Utah farmers and ranchers. Getting food, both perishable and non-perishable, from field to market in all seasons is important to rural Utah economies and the overall health of Utah’s economy. Securing funds to meet the growing rural and urban transportation needs is critical.

Property rights

Conservation easements and eminent domain have and will continue to be tools to preserve and take away agriculture lands. Maintaining property rights in a growing economy is paramount. Transitioning ownership of land and water must occur under a willing-seller/willing-buyer agreement.

State Fair

Supporting the expansion and upgrading of the Utah State Fairpark through the state’s commitment and on-going investment to present the highest-level attractions for all Utahns is a priority. The state fair should be the annual showcase for all of Utah, with agriculture and ag education being a highlight.

Utah Farm Bureau believes keeping the State Fair Park where it is provides a central gathering point for rural Utahns to congregate and showcase their products to urban centers. Utah’s annual State Fair has historically been, and will continue to be, a venue to educate the public on the essentials of food and fiber production. This venue and purpose is worthy of continued adequate funding from the State Legislature.

National concerns

Agriculture labor

Farm Bureau supports immigration reform that addresses American agriculture’s current needs and in the future. This means dealing responsibly with the existing workforce.

It also means providing reliably for the future by assuring that farmers and ranchers have access to a usable worker program that responds to agriculture’s unique needs. Clearly, border security and employer enforcement are important parts of the debate, but such provisions alone cannot solve the problem.

Waters of the United States (WOTUS)

The Clean Water Act (CWA), enacted in 1972, limits federal jurisdiction to “navigable” waters of the U.S. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2001 and 2006, reaffirmed those limits.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), through regulations, guidance and other means, are seeking to expand their authority to the maximum extent, potentially even beyond the limits approved by Congress and reaffirmed by the Court.

Farm Bureau opposes proposals to fundamentally change the CWA by expanding jurisdiction of the federal government to intrastate waters, including groundwater, ditches, culverts, pipes, desert washes, sheet flow, erosional features, farm and stock ponds and prior converted cropland.

The success of the Clean Water Act (CWA) over its 37-year history is based on federalism and shared responsibility. This approach allows states to protect truly ecologically important and environmentally sensitive areas within their borders while, at the same time, preserving the authorities of states and local communities over their own land and water use planning.

Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service’s Groundwater Resources Management Directive (GROTUS) seeks to establish federal regulatory authority over the state’s groundwater. For the first time ever, a federal agency is seeking to regulate groundwater by imposing approvals, monitoring, reporting and evaluation of the state’s groundwater withdrawals.

This federal regulatory overreach will create uncertainty for Utah water rights and cause delays and increased costs.

Budget, taxes

Farm Bureau supports the more than two million farms, individuals, family partnerships and family cooperatives that own 98 percent of American farms.

A simple, fair and less burdensome tax system that protects farms from generation-to-generation, keeps farms in production and reduces the taxes on farms and ranches is a Farm Bureau priority. Farm Bureau supports tax policy that encourages private initiative and economic growth.

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.

For further detail on priority issues, contact the Utah Farm Bureau Federation at 801-233-3040.