State leaders Tim Davis and Tim Hawkes sit at the front of the auditorium facing seven Box Elder community members sitting at desks. Autoliv Auditorium at USU Brigham City campus. June 25, 2024. (Katie White/ Utah Public Radio)

Utah lawmakers are asking for ideas about managing the Great Salt Lake. UPR’s Katie White attended the first ever Great Salt Lake Road Show where Utah farmers voiced concern about proposed water conservation plans calling for a cut in alfalfa production.

The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council Chair Tim Hawkes and Deputy Great Salt Lake Commissioner Tim Davis held an open forum with Box Elder community members Tuesday evening at USU’s Brigham City campus.

All of the eight community members who attended were either farmers themselves or had another connection to the agricultural industry.

“There’s just this fundamental dynamic here in Utah that there’s not a lot of water and there’s a ton of demands — all these people around the table, they all need some water,” Tim Hawkes said.

Hawkes began with a water needs presentation, sharing updates on the condition of Great Salt Lake and preservation efforts.

Hawkes told participants at the road show that one idea to save water on agriculture is to pay farmers not to farm third and fourth crops of alfalfa, saying those crops require more water and are lower in value.

One farmer interjected, disagreeing with Hawkes.

“So the question becomes —,” Hawkes said.

“That’s not necessarily true,” the farmer said.

“Well —.”

“Third and fourth crop.”

“Are they better or worse?”

“Well, they’ll test better.”

“That worries me because that drives the price of hay up,” Sakia White said.

That is Utah Farm Bureau Federation’s Northern Regional Manager, Sakia White.

“That's now fallen on the backs of the farmers that now they've got to go find more hay. It's a supply and demand issue,” White said.

Hawkes has presented this idea in other Utah ag communities. He says this is the first time he’s been questioned about the possible disadvantages of paying farmers not to produce alfalfa.

“I’ve always had what I guess I would say is an oversimplified view of how alfalfa is grown and what the crops are worth and it probably comes from somewhere. I mean, I picked up the idea,” Hawkes said.

He says these kinds of responses are what they want to know.

“To get some real world feedback that says that might not work exactly like you want it to, I think that feedback is really important to crafting a solution that does work for these rural communities,” Hawkes said.

Hawkes says the next roadshows are tentatively planned to take place in Salt Lake, Tooele, Davis and Weber counties. Other counties are also being considered.

Reporter, Utah Public Radio

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