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Ag task force comes up with wish list for Utah farms

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 9:19 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A task force created to boost protections for Utah agriculture is asking lawmakers to direct an additional $1 million to target non-native weeds and provide incentives to buy Utah-grown food when at all possible.

The 29 recommendations by the Utah Agriculture Sustainability Task Force grew out of seven months of meetings and research.

Members also want additional reform carved out at the federal level, most notably revisions to the immigrant guest worker program that would allow temporary workers to stay as long as three years for work in the dairy or sheep industry.

Such a measure has been introduced in Washington by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in a proposal called the DASH Act, which would revise the H2a program estimated to be used by fewer than 5 percent of U.S. farms. Under the law's current constraints, dairy farms and sheep herders are ineligible to participate.

The state should also resist using E-verification of worker's citizenship status until suitable federal guest worker laws are in place, according to the group.

The task force, which unveiled its recommendations to the Utah Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee on Wednesday, also wants the federal government to eliminate subsidies for agricultural products such as corn if they are used for the development of energy like bio-fuels.

The steps to help farms are necessary in light of the increasing pressures coming to bear on the modern-day farmer, according to task force chair Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.

Such pressures outlined by the task force include the urbanization of the Wasatch Front, population growth and fluctuating operating costs.

The task force cited a 2008 Governor's Office of Planning and Budget report that said Utah will need to develop nearly 200,000 additional acres of farmland by 2030 to meet population trends if they continue.

"We must recognize that we cannot continue the path we have been taking with regards to protecting our prime farmland and expect different results," said Agriculture and Food Commissioner Leonard Blackham. "Conservation easements are a needed option if we wish to protect our access to locally grown fruits and vegetables."

Other task force recommendations include:

• Create a separate greenbelt designation for smaller-acreage operations.

• Develop incubator kitchens in each county to provide small-scale agricultural start-ups with a place to test new products.

•  Support Utah HB116 (Guest Worker Program): an ample, sustainable and legal workforce is critical for our farms and ranches.

• Provide a fund for central distribution points to purchase Utah agricultural products

The recommendations come even as the Utah Farm Bureau is in the midst of its annual convention staged this year in Davis County and scheduled to end Friday. Organizers say the 30,000-member group is in the process of crafting new ways to promote Utah agriculture and convey its importance to the average consumer.

Among the speakers at the event are Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and economist Jeff Thredgold from Zions Bank.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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