The new year should be good for Utah farmers and ranchers, and rural Utah will reap the benefits of farmers having some money in their pockets, Utah Agriculture Commissioner Cap Ferry said Friday.
"We're coming out of a decadelong farm slump at last. This past year saw a record net U.S. farm income of between $54 billion and $58 billion. American agriculture is beginning to grow again. Farmers are getting rid of the shackles of debt and are beginning to get control of their farms."Ferry said financial reports say Utah farmers had record cash receipts for livestock in 1988, and he expects livestock prices will continue to stay high next year.
"This is especially important to Utah, where the cattle industry is the biggest share of our agriculture. Dairy prices are up somewhat also, and this offsets the rising costs of feed. Consumption of dairy products nationally is up 3 percent. And by the way, Utah continues to hold the lead as the top ice cream- and milk-consuming state in the nation."
Ferry farms 10,000 acres of private and leased land near Corinne with two sons, and his father and has 1,000 acres of irrigated farmland.
His family has a cow-calf operation with 450 cows and a large feed lot, where they feed their own and others' cattle. This fall, he said, they fed 5,300 head of cattle. In addition, the family grows corn for silage, hay and pasture and plants 120 acres of turnips for fall feed.
"I'm pretty optimistic about farming. Farming is definitely better than it has been in a long time. Banks are better off. Small towns in Utah that depend on farmers are coming back. When farmers have more money to spend and when shopkeepers sell more it helps the whole economy.
"Sales tax revenue goes up and this benefits the state. It's a win-win situation."
Ferry said he is gratified to see new agriculture producers in Utah, especially trout and catfish farmers, and he said he expects these fish industries will grow.
"We are trying to establish a lamb-killing facility in Utah, in conjunction with a hide tannery. There is an established company in Boston ready to build a huge tannery here, but they need a minimum of 200 sheep pelts a day to keep the tannery busy and could use up to 1,000 pelts a day.
"This means we need a slaughterhouse that could furnish the tannery with raw pelts. Slaughtering a couple of hundred head of lamb a day would create a whole new set of satellite industries - lamb, lambskin pelts and wool processing.
"Companies could make car-seat covers, coats and vests and other firms could use the wool for blankets and yarn. We just need to get a slaughterhouse built."
Ferry said his department is working to increase lamb consumption in Utah and is working with wool growers and supermarkets on special lamb promotions.
"We have two quick-freeze plants in Utah County being used for cherries, and we hope to use them to quick freeze onions, carrots and other vegetables off season to keep these quick-freeze facilities working all year and increase vegetable production in Utah."
He said he also expects greater grain and hay production in Utah this next year because of changes in government programs.
Ferry said the state's grasshopper problems, which have cost Utah many millions of dollars in the past, are under control. But, he said, the Russian wheat aphid is becoming a serious problem and controlling this pest will cost farmers a great deal in the future, both in eradication expenses and in reduced grain production.
"It looks as if our reservoirs will have ample water next year so I don't expect any serious problems with irrigation."
He said farm experts are predicting that fertilizer prices will go up 9 percent, but, he said, farmers that can use wet ammonium sulfate can save money. "It is a byproduct of steel production at Geneva. High steel production levels have produced a great amount of ammonium sulfate and the price of this fertilizer is way down.
"Right now, the price of ammonium sulfate is a third the price of ammonium nitrate. Utah County farmers will find it especially cheap because of reduced freight costs."