Utah Farm Bureau president Kenneth R. Ashby is touring the state this month, meeting with media and community leaders and telling them some important facts about agriculture in Utah:

"Farming is Utah's biggest and most important industry," he said. "It surprises a lot of people. Too many people don't realize that 21 percent of Utah's workers are employed in some aspect of agriculture."Other surprising facts, to some, is the overall worth of farming to the state's economy. "Farm products alone are worth $560 million annually to the state. And, if you consider farm land, equipment and supplies, you get a figure of $6.2 billion.

"If you add up all the raw farm products, processing, transportation, distribution and sales, you get a figure of $2.37 billion a year," the Farm Bureau leader said.

It is unfortunate, he said, that too few people in Utah realize that farming and ranching are putting millions of dollars annually into people's pockets. "Utah's diversified and viable agriculture is enriching our lifestyles and bolstering our security."

Farming is undergoing big changes in Utah and nationally, Ashby says. "Not too many farmers have the luxury any more of actually working in their fields. Farming has become big business and farmers are having to be not only growers but businessmen, accountants, financiers, stock market analysts and bookkeepers - to say nothing of them having to be veterinarians, mechanics, chemists, meteorologists and, above all, students of agriculture.

"Modern farming is biochemistry, genetic engineering, plant science, food processing, marketing, public relations and advertising. There is too much going on in the world that affects farming and the future of agriculture to spend all your time in the fields," he said.

Once upon a time, farmers tried to grow all they could. Harvests were everything, abundance was the key. Today, Ashby says, efficiency is the key and net profit is the bottom line. "You don't try to grow all you can. You try to produce the finest quality you can and you try to have a market waiting for your farm products even before you plant."

Value-added products are the new farm slogan - "Not only growing a product, but refining it, drying or freezing it, cleaning and cutting and packaging it. Every step a farmer can take from growing to selling can add dollars to his profits.

"If a farmer can truck his own produce to market or can pre-process or process his vegetables, for instance, before they are sold to a canning or packaging company, then he has earned the profits the middlemen used to make. He is adding value to his original product."

Ashby says Utah farmers should consider new ways to package their produce. An example is the Utah hay cube or compressed hay bales that are easier to transport and easier to feed to cattle.

"The challenge to beef producers is to develop new cuts of beef, different processing methods and new ways of marketing their product to increase sales and profits."

Today's farmers, he says, have to pay attention, as never before, to what consumers want.

"Farmers need to consider how consumers feel about food and health and fitness and what they want as far as convenience is concerned.