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Drought, inflation hit central Utah agriculture producers hard

Posted at 1:48 PM, Jul 14, 2022

EPHRAIM, Utah — The pond on the Nielson family farm has been here since the 1860s.

"They planted the trees and it’s spring-fed," said Kerry Nielson, a sixth-generation farmer who works the land. "And that spring filled that pond up until the last three years. There’s no water in it now."

The drought has certainly had an impact on the farm.

"We've lost our fishery. There used to be bass ponds and the bass have died because there’s not any water moving through it," Nielson said.

Crop yields have been impacted. Feed for cattle is also impacted. Inflation has impacted costs to get cattle to market. Fuel costs are up. Other costs are up. But the returns to farmers is down.

"It's important to learn where your food comes from," he said. "If you don’t understand. If you think it’s just going to be on that shelf whenever you go and people are starting to see empty shelves. Those empty shelves are because of these issues facing us."

On Thursday, members of the governor's office visited the Nielson farm to discuss the problems and brainstorm solutions.

"There’s a lot of challenges... and they all seem to be combining right now all at once," said Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson.

Nielson said the costs to get meat to market are up. He is urging people to buy more locally-sourced foods.

"People want to eat, and if we can get it direct to them without going through foreign market channels right now? A lot of our direct market channels is owned by foreign companies and if we can get it so we cut that channel and that money stays local, hey we all win," he said.

Stephen Lisonbee, the governor's senior advisor for rural affairs, said the state was exploring options.

"When we graze, we produce, we slaughter, we sell here locally? It’s a process that can work. That’s the end game is to figure out how to do more of that," he told FOX 13 News.

The drought is another problem. It has impacted the entire state. Near the Nielson farm, the Gunnison Reservoir was on the verge of running dry. Officially, Utah's Department of Natural Resources said it was 1.47% full. When FOX 13 News visited what used to be a water body — a small stream of water was flowing in.

Utah has launched a series of grants to agriculture producers to get them to switch to water-conserving technology in the ongoing drought emergency (agriculture is a top user of water in the state).

"We have to continue conserving, we have to continue looking long-term down the road and doing what we can to make sure that we’re prepared for the future," Lt. Gov. Henderson said.