Greener Pastures: Why farmers are moving to Millard County Greener Pastures: Why farmers are moving to Millard County
Greener Pastures: Why farmers are moving to Millard County

Several farmers who used to till land, raise crops and run cattle in Salt Lake and Utah counties now do those things about 100 miles to the south.

Urban sprawl and commercial development during the past 30 years in the state’s two most populated counties and neighboring counties forced full-time farmers to rethink their operations. Some profited by selling land in northern Utah to developers. And with those profits, they purchased less expensive land farther south in spacious, sparsely populated Millard County.

“It’s really the last frontier for farming in Utah,” says Alan Williams.

Moving southward

The Williams family, farmers who raise corn and wheat and have a cow-calf operation, sold eight acres of their property near Spanish Fork—a Costco now stands on the land. Alan and his brother, Jared, now farm about 1,200 acres in west Millard County. They were able to purchase 440 acres about nine years ago, after looking at various other possibilities for their farm.

After we sold the land near Spanish Fork, we looked at other areas like Brigham City, Tremonton and Richfield. Up in Brigham City and Tremonton, we could see that that would probably become like Spanish Fork is now in the next decade or two. There wasn’t enough land available in the Richfield area,” Williams says. “…We still own 200 acres in Spanish Fork. We leased ground in Spanish Fork for a while, but ground became less and less available with all the development…This has been a great move for us. There also is a hometown feel down here with hometown values.”

Vincent Family Ranch

Frank Vincent has farmed in Millard County for the last 20 years, after he sold land in Midway and Wallsburg.

“The land was so valuable up there that we were able to get more bang for the buck buying land down here,” Vincent says. He purchased 5,000 acres in Millard County and runs cattle on land in Juab and Tooele counties. The Sevier River runs through the 1,000-acre Vincent Family Ranch in Leamington.

“We take cattle from here in the spring and we herd them north and they graze them on land in Juab and Tooele counties. Up in Tooele we graze above Vernon Reservoir,” Vincent says. The Vincent family runs a herd of 1,000 cows.

“We have a lot more space down here than we had up there. There was a lot of water up there and we had productive acres,” Vincent says. “Moving down here turned out to be an excellent move financially. It wasn’t an easy move for my wife. We had to migrate from civilization.”

Ranching is a way of life for Vincent and his two sons. “It’s all I’ve done,” he says. “I want to leave the ranch as a legacy to my sons.”

Dennis Stephanoff’s great grandfather and grandfather started farming in Cache Valley back in 1916. “They had 400 acres of sugar beets and potatoes,” the 67-year-old Stephanoff says.

The family moved down from Cache Valley to Salt Lake Valley in the 1920s and started farming in Murray.

I had the opportunity to farm as a young kid. I have just farmed my whole life. I started driving a tractor when I was 4 years old. I had the opportunity to work with my great-grandfather, grandfather and dad,” Stephanoff says. “…When my family moved from Cache Valley to Murray they started truck farming or vegetable farming. My dad’s farm sat right where the I-215 belt route runs through Murray, so he sold out and we moved to Riverton. I was 13.”

After a stint in Vietnam with the Navy, Stephanoff returned to Utah and got married. In 1972, residential and commercial growth began to consume the Riverton area so Stephanoff’s father sold his land in Riverton and purchased a farm in Delta.

“Our intent was to make money selling our land, but some of the developers we were working with went broke so we didn’t have a whole lot of money when we came to Delta and had to start from scratch. We just came down here and all we had was a lot of hard work to do. We bought 1,000 acres,” he says. “We did well for a lot of years here and raised vegetables. We had connections with all the buyers up in Salt Lake because of my father and grandfather so we had a good market. We raised 80 acres of vegetable crops and hay and barley and corn. We even raised some pheasants.”

All three of Stephanoff’s sons have worked with him through the years, and one son continues to work full time on the farm.

“The growing season is a little shorter down here and the summers are cooler in the evenings. They told us we couldn’t grow vegetables, and we were able to do it for 40-some years,” he says. The Stephanoffs stopped growing vegetables around 2008 and now focus on raising cattle, hay and grain.

One unique thing we do now is raise carrot seed. We’ve done that for the past four years,” he says.

Lenard Harward began farming in Springville, growing crops and feeding beef cattle in 1945. Today, Lenard’s son, Jud Harward and his two sons, Lenny and Jake, have expanded the family operation into a large diversified agricultural business that covers hay production, straw mulching, vegetable production growing produce with roadside stands, Jack-O-lanterns, agricultural fertilizers, agri-spraying, high-moisture corn milling and seed production.

We sold about 40 acres of land in Springville and were able to buy about 1,000 acres between two places in Millard County. We’ve been farming down there for about 12 years. We looked at other places, but Millard County was the most suitable for the type of farming we wanted to do,” Jud Harward says.

We grow some alfalfa, corn and vegetables down there and still have a large operation in Springville. I still have my main residence in Springville. Farming is in my blood,” Harward says.

LiquaDry is a company in Millard County that employs 65 people and specializes in producing about 35 vegetable and grass powders. Elend LeBaron used to live in Salt Lake County and in Oregon. In 1996, he invented his first ambient temperature spray-dryer and started LiquaDry. In 1999 he moved his company from Oregon to Millard County.

We were operating in Oregon, but moved to Millard County for a few reasons. The rural atmosphere here is really good for our business,” he says. “County officials and city officials are so much easier to work with in more rural communities compared to Salt Lake County. You can just call them up and talk to them, or walk into their offices and talk to somebody. Also, the people around here have that farmer work ethic.”

About 14 years ago, Summit County farmer Eric Averett visited Delta to buy some hay and ended up purchasing 80 acres. “I still have a dairy farm in Francis and still live in Francis. I have a trailer down there and go in the spring and clean out ditches, plant and rotate crops,” Averett says.

In 1995, John and Maria Nye transported 450 dairy cows from Connecticut to the Sutherland, west Delta. Their Mountain View Dairy now includes 3,500 cows with 45 employees.

Solving challenges

Lack of water and poor soil conditions are challenges in Millard County.

Neils Hansen, agronomist with USU, recently spoke to a group of Delta-area farmers at a soil health workshop.

It amazes me when I come out to Delta. You guys can farm!” Hansen says. “You’re growing things on an old lakebed that has been a desert for many thousands of years. It doesn’t have much organic matter. I have to take my hat off to you because you are creating something that has never been there before.”

Chance Lyman, who moved to Delta from Escalante to farm, emphasizes that farmers need to continue to improve their methods to stay in business.

“If producers in the area start using soil health principles now, they will see major improvement and quality in the soil the next five years,” Lyman says.

Farmers are mostly happy about relocating all or some of their operations to Millard County. Farming is their legacy and certainly in their blood. Life is quieter and trips to metro areas are 100 miles away, but their operations thrive and they’re able to avoid any symptoms of big-city blues.