Low interest loans benefit local farmers and ranchers
A little over 40 years ago, a new agriculture program was put in place that has had a positive impact on the bottom line of some local farmers and ranchers.
In February of 1976, the Utah Legislature established the Rangeland Projects Development Fund.
The development fund set in place a revolving low-interest loan program that has helped Utah agri-business owners undertake more than 2,000 conservation projects.
The projects have reduced soil erosion, conserved the use of agricultural water and improved crop yields.
The program is now known as the Agriculture Resource Development Loan program, or ARDL.
“The program has many success stories,” said LuAnn Adams, commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, which administers the program.
Adams said the majority of projects funded during the ARDL’s first decade focused on grazing, but demand shifted in the 1980s to fund irrigation projects because of damage brought on the by the 1984 floods.
“The switch to more efficient center pivot irrigation systems helps farmers conserve up to 80 percent of their water while reducing electric bills and boosting yields,” Adams said.
Sanpete County farmer Tyler Blackburn of Axtell used ARDL loans to convert from an older ditch and wheel line system to center pivots.
Blackburn says he can irrigate more acres of corn, grains and alfalfa with no increase in water usage.
“I couldn’t have made the switch without the ARDL program,” Blackburn said. “My ground is uneven in some areas, and I couldn’t get enough water to my crops. Converting to the pivots helps me get water to more of my land.”
Blackburn is not the only agribusiness owner in Sanpete to benefit from the program, said Adams.
The Sunderland Dairy in Chester relied on ARDL loans to help it construct a number of conservation projects over the past decade.
Farmer Scott Sunderland, along with his brothers and a nephew, built a manure digester that powers a methane gas turbine to supply energy for the business operations.
Adams says the dairy also worked to improve water quality by moving their herd away from a local stream to help prevent manure from entering the water.
“We couldn’t have afforded to undertake such projects when interest rates were high,” said Sunderland. “ARDL is a great program; it helped us get projects on the ground that saved water and moved cattle off the stream banks.”
Adams said the program has helped cattle and sheep ranchers replant thousands of acres of encroaching pinon-juniper trees and sagebrush with native grasses. The results enabled them to graze more animals on their land while keeping the grasses plentiful and healthy.
Since the ARDL Program began, it has recorded 2,502 projects, Adams said. A total of 1,765 were irrigation related, 547 were range improvement projects, and 233 were watershed, disaster and energy related.
“The ARDL program accomplishes two important goals of our Department of Agriculture and Food,” Adams said. “It helps farmers and ranchers conserve natural resources, and ARDL helps rural economies. When we have financially healthy producers, we can keep more land in farming, which makes us all winners.”
To find out more about the ARDL program contact the Sanpete County Conservation District.