February 11, 2013

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Agriculture a Growing Contributor to Utah Economy

Di Lewis

February 11, 2013

Agriculture processing and production are significant contributors to the state economy, accounting for 78,000 jobs and $17.5 billion in total economic output in the state, when adjusting for multiplier effects, according to a Utah State University study.

The industry also generates $285 million in sales tax revenue, said Leonard Blackham, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food commissioner.

“When people think of agriculture, they often think of production agriculture—a farmer out producing crops or a rancher out producing livestock. And these activities are very important to the vitality of our rural areas,” said Paul Jakus, one of the study’s authors and associate director for the Center for Society, Economy and the Environment. The report’s other two authors are Ruby Ward and Lassina Coulibaly.

Jakus said production agriculture directly employs about 14,000 people, and another 7,000 after adjusting for the multiplier effect. It also provides $2.8 billion of economic output.

However, many people don’t realize agricultural processing and food manufacturing is an even larger part of the agricultural industry, Jakus said. Processing and manufacturing are things like making ice cream or cheese, or making different cuts of meat.

They are an $8.2 billion sector that directly employs 16,000 people in the state, about 15 percent of all manufacturing jobs in Utah. They’ve also grown by 15.1 percent from 2008 to 2011.

“So production agriculture and agricultural processing contribute to the economic wellbeing of basically every community in the state,” Jakus said.

Blackham said Utah’s low food prices and relative abundance of food are a big contributor to its good quality of life. The state’s legacy of agriculture is also an important thing to preserve, he added.

“Agriculture has always been a part of the state, part of our history, part of our culture,” Blackham said. “And I think it adds value in our lifestyle and those families do, too. When you go into rural Utah, everyone likes to see a nice farm. It takes you back to your roots, to your heritage, a little bit.”

The quality and legacy of agriculture in Utah is why Cristiano Creminelli said he moved to Utah.

“Usually when I talk to somebody the first question they ask is ‘Why Utah?’ and I tell them because I like the nightlife,” he joked. The real reason is the quality of meat here is the best he could find in all of the United States, as well as a climate well suited to his needs, said Creminelli, founder and VP of production at Creminelli Fine Meats.

A strong agricultural industry has helped Creminelli Fine Meats double production since August and he said they are on track to grow another 30 percent by April.

“I’m happy with my choice. I’m happy to be in Utah and every day I feel like I’m in the right place for making this work,” he said.

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