Around 100 Tooele County residents listened as the county planning commission heard three presentations about animal farming.
The planning commission met to work on the county’s personal agriculture ordinance in a work session at Deseret Peak Complex on Wednesday night.
The meeting included presentations from the Utah Farm Bureau, the Utah Department of Agriculture, and the Tooele County Health Department. Public comment from the audience wasn’t included on the agenda.
Sterling Brown, Utah Farm Bureau vice president for public policy, told the planning commission that local ordinances that try to address a specific issue get into trouble because their vision is not broad enough.
“Agriculture needs latitude,” he said. “Not all acres are created equal and not all animals are created equal.”
Ordinances should dictate which animals are allowed, not how many, according to Brown.
Brown also said more often than not available water dictates the number of animals on a property, not the ordinance.
Familiar with most county ordinances regarding farming or ranching in the state, Brown pointed out that some ordinances don’t allow commercial livestock operations in what they define as residential estate zones.
“More and more in urban counties, we are seeing covenants, conditions and restrictions are used some times to limit animals,” Brown said.
He recommended grandfathering those operations already in existence when rewriting county ordinances.
Cody James, director of animal industry with the Utah Department of Agriculture, told the planning commission that animal agriculture in Utah is not disappearing, but it is evolving.
“Small-scale operations in the state have doubled production in the last 10 years,” he said.
Farming is very much alive in Tooele County, according to Brown.
Farms occupy 350,000 acres in the county, or 8 percent of the county’s land, while only 11 percent of the county is privately owned, he said.
There are 476 farms in Tooele County and those farms bring in combined annual cash receipts of $52 million, according to Brown.
Industry standards for large animal feeding operations, called animal feeding operations or AFO, and concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFO, have already been developed, he said.
The same principle used in AFO and CAFO operations can be applied to smaller operations, according to James.
“As long as there are good management practices,” he said. “It’s not going to be a problem. With good management practices, whether you have five or 500 horses, you won’t have to worry about contamination of anything.”
Bryan Slade, Tooele County Health Department environmental health director, said that animals aren’t the cause of Tooele Valley’s water quality problems.
“Most degradation of groundwater in Tooele Valley is from septic systems, not animals,” he said.
Brown referenced two publications in his comments. He held up a copy of a report prepared by the Utah State Task Force and Agriculture Sustainability, and a report on agriculture prepared by Envision Utah.
Brown also made reference to the Utah Agriculture Advisory Board, a legislative-created body that advises counties on agriculture policy, practices and enforcement.
Before adjourning the meeting, planning commission chairman Lynn Butterfield directed the planning commission’s staff to obtain and distribute to the planning commission copies of the two reports mentioned by Brown, contact information for the Agriculture Advisory Board, and information on the AFO and CAFO guidelines.
Butterfield asked the public to continue to send comments by email to Tooele County Planner Blaine Gehring at email@example.com.
Butterfield specifically asked for email about residents’ individual small agriculture operations.
“If you would, make comments to us about your business and how it operates so we can get an expanded view of how that works,” he said.
The next regular planning commission meeting will be on June 7. The planning commission may start discussion of the animal ordinance at that meeting. A public hearing will be held before any ordinance change is recommended to the county commission by the planning commission. But that process may take some time, Butterfield said.
“It took us a year and a half to revise Chapter 15 of the land use ordinances,” he said.
The county planning commission has been considering changes to the county’s ordinance on personal agriculture ordinance since October 2016 when the county’s planner brought to its attention that current code restricts the number of animals on property zoned for rural residential, agriculture and multiple use purposes to four large animals or 10 fowl.