Utah's MAGA farmers get a bad trade from shipping the state's water overseas | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Utah's MAGA farmers get a bad trade from shipping the state's water overseas 

Private Eye

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Too often, winter comes early for University of Utah football fans. For the past two years, Ute fans have traveled to Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl, where consecutive losses closed out each of those football seasons, leading to miserable winters of waiting till "next season."

That was especially so in early 2023, when the bitterly disappointed snow gods unleashed towers of powder in the Utah mountains after the Utes were leveled by Penn State.

As it turned out, however, that snow was a welcome gift to Utah since—as even youngsters can recall—much of our water reserves were already depleted, and the Great Salt Lake was diminished to the point that a strong-armed fellow like Cam Rising could skip a stone across it. As those record snows melted—with only mild flooding thanks to all that snow melting into canyon waters at a steady pace—Utahns breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing that they could once again water their lawns and gardens without guilt.

I've not seen much news as to whether Utah's agricultural industries have reduced their usage, or if any alfalfa farmers cut back shipments of that legume family plant to China. I never knew alfalfa was a flowering legume until just now. Did you?

Actually, fully 30% of Utah alfalfa ends up in China, taking with it the acres and acres of Utah water resources used to grow it. I've often wondered why MAGA-red Utah goes along with that. Like even yesterday, I was driving back from Lava Hot Springs, Idaho (what a nice day trip!), and no sooner had we crossed the border into Utah when we were met with an enormous Trump-Pence banner atop a giant truck sitting in an expanse of farmland.

I took that to be the ultimate irony. Former President Trump has mockingly referred to China as "CHI-na, CHI-na" over and over, alerting his followers to the fact the country is an international brand that can't be trusted. Trump is all about brands, you know. Yet, his MAGA followers do business with and backdoor supply Communist China with goods and resources that might better help Americans.

That doesn't suggest Utah shouldn't do business with China. Nor does it suggest alfalfa growers should not sell their crops. But if we're going to ship our crops and water out of Utah, how about sending them to Mexico, where we might actually end up doing some good with it, like feeding the cattle that will feed our neighbors? As well, Mexico doesn't aim missiles at us that may one day blow that giant Trump-Pence sign to smithereens. That would be a terrible way for China to thank our hardworking Utah alfalfa farmers.

Our water supplies and the level of the Great Salt Lake could be greatly improved if our alfalfa farmers found another legume family crop to grow—like peas, maybe. Or lima beans or lentils. They probably could, you know, but so long as our diets tend toward eating massive amounts of protein in the form of steaks and cheeseburgers, those farmers will keep growing alfalfa, and China will keep drinking our water by feeding it to their cows.

I don't know what we get back for that. At least in Japan—also a huge USA alfalfa consumer—we are returned Kobe beef at just $200 per pound, the perfect table addition to nearly no Americans at all.

It could be worse. Saudi Arabia—our "smart friends" who helped blow up the World Trade Center, killed the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, ruined professional golf with the LIV Golf Tour and put $2 billion into the pockets of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for reasons yet TBD—is also a giant importer of American alfalfa. This is also ironic. In 2018 (those nostalgic Trump-Pence years), Saudi Arabia banned growing and harvesting alfalfa and other crops used as animal fodder because—get this—Saudi Arabia has limited water resources. Like zero. So they buy ours.

Meanwhile in Arizona, Saudi companies and agents are buying and leasing huge swaths of acreage for the sole purpose of growing alfalfa and shipping it back to the Middle East. Now, that's a kick in the teeth. The water they will use will come from covenants that allow for dispersal of waters flowing into Colorado River drainage.

How much of that water begins as rain and snow in Utah? I was once a champion high school math contestant, so I can give you the only correct and exact answer right here: Too much. They don't deserve a single drop, not even a snowflake's worth. If you're crying about what comes across our borders but don't care what exits our borders, sit down.

To that end, Utah has already enacted the Restrictions on Foreign Acquisitions of Land Act that restricts Utah lands being sold to foreign entities. Gov. Spencer Cox—himself of farmer lineage—signed the bill.

The Cox farm grows mostly alfalfa, and he's a fair defender of the alfalfa-growing industry. It's not known if his own crop ends up in Beijing. Still, as a farmer, he's intimately aware that Utah water is at a premium and that if not for last winter's snows, his and many other Utah farms may have suffered even more this year.

And here's where I part with Gov. Cox.

He thinks that prayer was responsible for Utah's banner, reservoir-filling 2023 snow year. But that means Utah took water from somewhere else, and mysterious as God may be, he would not penalize one faithful tribe to benefit another.

The truth lies elsewhere, dear governor—it snowed deeply because Utah lost the Rose Bowl game. But it was not a fair trade if we're wasting the water.

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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