Agriculture is the activity of converting natural resources into food and material goods in support of both regional and national economic production and is an activity fundamentally key to establishing food security. 

Related resource topics for county planning include:



Map of Data

Annual Precipitation= Precipitation from PRISM
Utah Current Water-Related Landuse= Water-Related land use (layer used twice for zoom thresholds)
UDNR.WRT.Camals CFS= Canals from Utah Division of Water Rights
State Soil Geographic= STATSGO Soils

Download mxd The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

Resource Information

With the advent of the pioneer settlement, agriculture became an integral endeavor of the region. Agriculture was not new to the western United States, but the intensity and scale of crop production significantly increased the demand created by the pioneer settlers. Crops including fruits, vegetables, and primarily grains are all grown in Utah’s soils. Feed crops intended for livestock make up much of the State’s production. Additionally, many materials used for technological purposes are derived from crops, such as building materials and medical supplies. Although agricultural production isn’t at the same magnitude as it is in some other states, Utah’s agriculture contributes to the local, regional and national food security, as well as the economy, along with other surrounding states.

The 2015 Annual Report [1] by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food states that, “Nearly 95 percent of Utahns believe farming and ranching are important to the future of the state.” The preservation of agricultural lands and resources is seen by many to provide tangible value to the state and/or intrinsic character to the lifestyle of its communities. This same report indicates that in 2014 there were 18,100 farms on 11,000,000 acres in Utah.

The Soil Survey data along with this key to Soil Orders can be used to identify areas of the county with soil suitable for agriculture.

The number of farms in the WFRC and the acres of land occupied by farming activities has varied in the past. Every 5 years, the US Department of Agriculture releases a census report on agriculture from the counties in the WFRC.[2],[3] As of 2012 the total number of farms was 3,021 and included approximately 826,296 acres. [4]

Number and size of farms in the WFRC from 2002-2012.
Davis County
Number of Farms582496493
Land in Farms
Morgan County
Number of Farms255316301
Land in Farms
not released
due to confidentiality
Salt Lake County
Number of Farms712587630
Land in Farms
Tooele County
Number of Farms380379476
Land in Farms
Weber County
Number of Farms1,0121,0011,121
Land in Farms
Total Number of Farms2,9412,7793,021
Total Land in Farms-816,946826,296

When planning for policy and land use, one must understand the primary resource in agriculture is affordable land. When describing the value of agricultural land, it’s important to make a distinction between four different categories describing distinct and sometimes competing values:

  • Potential agricultural output value is the summation of all the characteristics that quantify the efficiency of the land for the range of appropriate agricultural uses.
  • Return on investment is the profitability of the land to the farmer or rancher.
  • Purchase value of the land is the sale price of the land at market value.
  • Intrinsic value perceived by the community is the non-quantifiable value of the land, the preservation of which is often pursued by local jurisdictions or various interest groups.

Because natural resources such as water and soil are necessary to for both farming and ranching, judicious use of these resources is required, especially with the ever-increasing pressures resulting from the redevelopment of ag-land into more urban uses. Water supply and quality, soil quality, air quality, invasive species and weeds, and plant and animal disease all add to the challenges faced by those practicing agriculture. The expansion of cities and suburbs often affects agricultural lands through pressures such as (but not limited to): the loss and/or fragmentation of productive fields and pastures within the service areas of irrigation canal service areas, the redevelopment of roadways and circulation routes needed to transport agricultural products and equipment into city streets, and the deliberate or happenstantial interference created by the urban environment that affects irrigation water management, crop and livestock production, and ag-land viability.

Agricultural land that uses water for irrigation can be identified from the Water-Related Landuse data, the Canals data and the Flowline (ditches and canals) data. The Annual Precipitation data can be used to identify the amount of precipitation a county receives. 

Best Management Practices

Finding the most appropriate means by which to manage resources, that balances the use of resources with the preservation of those resources, while accounting for all factors affecting the use of those resources and other related impacts is known as best management practices (BMPs). The resources listed above are continually monitoring and addressing conditions affecting the science of agriculture in the State. As situations on the ground shift, these organizations are in contact with those that, through study or practice, understand, develop, and carryout BMPs. As a result, the most current evolution of BMPs is addressed, and their resources are revisited in an effort to provide the most up to date knowledge.

Utah State University Extension gives eight agricultural best management practices: [5]

  1. Conservation Tillage is the practice of leaving harvested plant materials on the soil surface to reduce runoff and soil erosion.
  2. Crop Nutrient Management is managing all nutrient inputs helps ensure that nutrients are available to meet crop needs while reducing nutrient runoff.
  3. Pest Management is using various methods for managing pests while protecting soil, water, and air quality.
  4. Conservation Buffers are vegetation strips that provide additional barriers of protection and prevent potential pollutants from running off into surface waters.
  5. Irrigation Management involves increasing irrigation efficiency to reduce nonpoint source pollution of ground and surface waters.
  6. Grazing Management is managing livestock grazing to reduce water quality impacts (e.g., reduce erosion potential).
  7. Animal Feeding Operations Management is using runoff control, proper waste storage, and nutrient management to minimize the impacts of animal feeding operations.
  8. Erosion and Sediment Control is the practice of conserving and reducing the amount of sediment reaching waterbodies, which protects overall agricultural land and water quality.

Utah State University Extension also provides information in the form of checklists regarding nutrient management and land management. Some overlap exists between the agricultural BMPs and the additional information.

The NRCS maintains a series of planning helps in spreadsheet format that are useful in completing projects and plans.[6] The spreadsheets include pricing estimates from 2011 (the latest available), which may be somewhat dated, but working through the spreadsheets still provides a sense of the costs of agricultural conservation measures.

In 2012 Utah Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell and Commissioner of Agriculture Leonard Blackham convened the Utah Agricultural Sustainability Task Force, which identified major issues confronting Utah agriculture and developed a list of proposed actions for state, county, local and federal governments to pursue. The proposed issues and actions are listed in the Task Force Report, Planning for Agriculture.[7]

Economic Considerations

The production agriculture and agricultural processing sectors are important elements of Utah’s economy. Economic sectors include: jobs, income, and quality of life to both rural and urban areas within the state. In 2011 production agriculture (including the value of commodities produced and used on the operation where produced) accounted for 3.1% of the state economy. However, production agriculture, along with its associated processing sector, accounted for 14.1% of the total state output.[8]

The Total and Average Market Value data can be used to compare one county’s agricultural output with nearby counties.

Utah’s Farm Income for 2014 was over $2.3 billion (see page 37 of the Annual Report [1] for a detailed listing of income by commodity type). This total can be divided into two main categories:

  • Income from Livestock and Animal Products: $1,843,108,000;
  • Income from Crops: $532,111,000.

“Utah farming and ranching has a great impact on the state‘s economy. Agricultural sales account for about $1.5 billion annually. Food growers, processors, and other agriculture related businesses employ more than 66,000 people and contribute approximately 14 percent to the State‘s economy. Grocers are not included in these figures.” [7]

While comparing these numbers to those from nearby California ($54 billion in 2014)[9] may make Utah’s output seem insignificant, crop failures in one region or state can have widespread economic impacts. The agricultural production within Utah contributes both stability and diversity to the local, regional, and national economy.

Impact Considerations

Perhaps the most compelling reason for agricultural land preservation in the WFRC area is the spread of urban development; often this development occurs on prime agricultural land. “The rapid rate of land transformation, accompanied by urban, suburban, and exurban growth, is coupled with large-scale rangeland and farmland fragmentation. Land fragmentation adversely affects the efficiency and productivity of agricultural operations.”[10]

Because of the volatile nature, and often slim profit margins of agricultural products, ag-uses depend heavily on large, ideally contiguous parcels of low-cost land to achieve efficiency and maintain economic viability. The more geographically fragmented the parcels the farmer operates, the more fuel and time that farmer uses travelling between parcels; and the requisite size and type of equipment may have to be reduced to be usable in a relatively smaller parcels, disproportionately inappropriate for the gross area of land operated; and the gross harvested output for all the parcels will likely be reduced due to inefficiency inherent at the perimeters of each parcel. To illustrate: a farmer with 1 parcel of 100 acres will be much more efficient than a farmer with 100 parcels of 1 acre each; and 100 farmers, each with 1-acre parcels will be even less efficient. This disparity in efficiency, combined with increased management demands (imposed by local governments, adjacent residential land users, and other commercial land users) can reduce the economic viability of any parcel to remain in agricultural uses. This scenario illustrates a common cycle that often leads agricultural land holders to sell or develop their land, rather than maintain ag-uses.

Efforts to protect farmland include Agricultural Protection Areas, conservation easements, and protective/agricultural zoning.[11]

Relevant Agency Contact Information

With the ever-present need of land use planners and policy makers to be educated about agricultural issues, and the potential for conflict between various interests, there are several agencies with agricultural information and expertise that can help a county with agricultural planning.

Utah State University Extension, County Extension Agents

  • Davis County 801-451-3412
  • Morgan County 801-829-3472
  • Salt Lake County 385-468-4820
  • Tooele County 435-277-2400
  • Weber County 801-836-1312

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food provides information and services related to:

  • Licensing Regulation and Product Registration
  • Food Safety and Consumer Protection
  • Markets and Finance
  • Pesticides
  • Plants and Pests
  • Animals
  • Weights and Measures
  • Conservation and Environmental

The Utah Association of Conservation Districts (UACD) has created county resource assessments, with agriculture included, that can be used for resource planning. Local UACD assessments include:

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
SSURGO Soils Data
Soil Survey Geographic Database (SSURGO) soil data with many useful attributes, eg. farmland class, drainage class, taxonomy, etc.Various1:12,000 to 1:63,360 USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
State and County Agriculture Profiles
County-level information about farms, income, market value, etc.Data for 2012County level dataUSDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
Agriculture market value
Value of agricultural products sold by county2007County level dataUS Department of Agriculture (USDA)
National Agricultural
Statistics Service (NASS)
PRISM Climate Group
Database for precipitation and temperature. Useful in determining which precipitation zone an area is located in.Variable4-km grid resolutionPrism Climate Group
Oregon State University
Canals and Ditches from National Hydrology Dataset (NHD)
To get canals and ditches use field “FType” = 334 Connecter and336 Canal/DitchesData download 7/01/2015

Maps service update schedule is not specified
Canals and Ditches from Utah Division of Water Rights (UDWRi)
Canals and DitchesUnknownUnknownUtah Division of Water Rights
Water-Related Land Use
Layer depicts the types and extent of irrigated crops, as well as information concerning phreatophytes, wet/open water areas, dry land agriculture and residential/industrial areas. The primary business driver for this dataset is for constructing and analyzing the state’s annual water budget.
More Information
20151:24,000Utah Division of Water Resources


  1. Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. 2015. Utah Agriculture Statistics and Annual Report.
  2. USDA: National Agricultural Statistics Services. 2002. County Summary Highlights.
  3. USDA: National Agricultural Statistics Services. 2007. County Summary Highlights.
  4. USDA: National Agricultural Statistics Services. 2012. County Summary Highlights.
  5. Utah State University Extension. 2011. Water Quality Best Management Practices. Website accessed: 12/29/15.
  6. USDA: Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2011. NRCS Utah Conservation Practice Cost Data.
  7. State of Utah, Agriculture Sustainability Task Force. 2012. Planning for Agriculture.
  8. Ward, R.A., P. Jakus, and L. Coulibaly. 2013. The economic contribution of agriculture to the economy of Utah in 2011. Center for Society, Economy and the Environment Paper #2013-01.  Department of Applied Economics, Utah State University, Logan Utah.
  9. California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2015. California Agricultural Production Statistics. Accessed: 2/17/2016.
  10. Leydsman McGinty, E. I. 2009. Urbanization in Utah. Pp. 153-156 in Rangeland Resources of Utah. Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service in Cooperation with the State of Utah Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.
  11. Utah Code 17-41-403.