WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – As temperatures creep closer to the 90s across the Wasatch Front, water reserves will continue to drop. The ever-evolving drought continues to affect Utah farmers. As they fight inflation, labor shortages, and water reductions, Utahns are encouraged to buy local when possible.
According to a study from Utah State University, Utah is home to nearly 11 million acres of farmland. About 80 percent of those lands are used for pasture and 15 percent of those lands are dedicated to crops.
“There’s multiple factors that make it really hard to be a farmer right now,” Kenny McFarland told ABC4. He is a produce farmer in Weber County. His family has been cultivating the land for generations. The McFarland Farm is just one of the estimated 18,000 farm operations in Utah.
“We take pride in what we try to do and have a good product, a safe product, a cheap product,” stated McFarland. “It’s really, really hard on us emotionally to try to keep that legacy going.” He explained that inflation, the labor shortage, a late frost, and the ongoing drought are all working against the agriculture industry right now.
The state has experienced drought conditions in eight of the last 10 years. Water restrictions are in place across the state and both residents and farmers are expected to cut their water consumption.
“Farmers and ranchers use 85 percent of our water,” Bailee Woolstenhulme with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food told ABC4. She further explained that many people want to villainize the agriculture sector for using so much water. However, she said it’s not that simple. There is a reason it needs the water it uses. “They’re providing us with food and sustenance to help us with our everyday lives,” she stated. “And a lot of that water gets regenerated and reused in positive ways.”
“If we all work together, I think we’re going to be able to get through it and be okay, water-wise,” McFarland said.
According to the study by USU, most of Utah’s cropland is dedicated to growing corn, alfalfa, wheat, and barley. However, the McFarland family dedicates more than 1,000 acres to produce. McFarland told ABC4 that around 85 percent of their yield is sold to local grocery stores, and the remaining 15 percent is sold directly to the consumer.
Both McFarland and Woolstenhulme encourage Utahns to buy local produce, meats, and food products when possible. Especially during a time when it seems all odds are against Utah’s agricultural workers.
In the coming weeks, local produce stands will be popping up across the state. Those who know how to preserve food for storage, are encouraged to buy extra (when and if they can) produce and preserve it.
Officials say this is one way to maximize the water that was used to grow this year’s crops. “That is also a great way to have food security, and it helps farmers, it helps consumers, it’s a great practice,” McFarland added.