A new study by Utah State University economists shows not only how important agriculture is to Utah, but how closely rural Utah is tied to the livestock industry and public lands grazing.
Conducted by Dr. Donald L. Snyder, an associate professor in USU's Department of Economics, and Dr. W. Cris Lewis, head of the department, the study has found that all parts of Utah are dependent to a great extent upon agriculture.The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that, across America, agriculture accounts for about 23 percent of all jobs. The USDA includes all types of employment dependent upon food and fiber, from grocery store clerks to cigarette vendors.
The Snyder and Lewis study is much more conservative and has, over the past eight months, examined the number of jobs and the amount of wages in seven areas of Utah that are related only to food and fiber production, processing, and wholesaling.
Their study does not include, as USDA figures do, all the grocery store clerks or clothing salesmen or others who are less directly connected to agriculture.
The results of the USU study are due to be published next week, but Snyder said preliminary findings show 40 percent of the jobs in central Utah depend on agriculture; 29 percent of the jobs in the Bear River region of the state depend on farm production and processing; and along the highly urbanized Wasatch Front, 12 percent of those employed are in jobs directly related to agriculture.
In terms of wages, the USU study found that 28 percent of all wages in central Utah are directly connected to agriculture. The figure is 26 percent in the Uintah Basin, 17 percent in the Bear River region and 10 percent along the Wasatch Front.
Snyder believes too few Utahns give agriculture enough credit for its contributions to this state's economy. "Certainly, not enough people appreciate how much rural Utah depends upon agriculture," he said.
Utah Department of Agriculture figures show cash receipts from the marketing of Utah farm commodities totaled nearly $600 million in 1987. Livestock accounted for nearly 75 percent of that total.
Snyder says rural Utah is especially dependent upon the livestock industry and upon public lands, where most Utah livestock is grazed.
Increasing grazing fees dramatically, limiting the use of public grazing lands or barring cattle from these lands would not only sorely tax farmers, but also would hurt the economy of rural Utah.
He estimates that if Utah cattlemen were not allowed to use federal lands for grazing their livestock, it would cost cattle producers - and the federal government - more than $20 million a year.
The government would lose the grazing fees it now enjoys and cattlemen would have to pay higher prices to obtain other grazing lands.
In addition, all the improvements that cattlemen make on federal grazing lands, such as reseeding, fencing, pond construction and erosion and flood control, would be lost.
"Utah has three basic industries: beauty, which attracts tourism; mining; and agriculture," Snyder said. "The two biggest and most important in terms of economic benefits are agriculture and mining."
In the past decade, there has been major growth in Utah in agricultural processing and wholesaling, such as meat packing and the preparation of packaged, ready to cook and ready to eat foods.
"These businesses have added substantial employment to the state," Snyder says.
In the future, when Utah lawmakers, economic planners and businessmen think about building up Utah's economy by bringing new industries into the state or building up established ones, they should not focus only on highly technical industries.
They should include in their plans agricultural businesses that could boost Utah's economy, especially in rural areas, as much or more than any other kind of enterprise.