Yuma Ag & You: Living the Rural Life

By Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott, May 24, 2015

With the end of the school year, families that have plans to move to a larger property or just get out of the city, are looking at former farmlands that have been converted to rural subdivisions. These properties range from an acre to two and a half acres in size and come with many surprises for the uninformed buyer. If the property is already developed, the buyer needs to investigate the soil on the parcel. Is it sandy like most of the Yuma mesa or valley soils of mixed clays, loams and silt loams?

The challenges of the sandy soils include the need for irrigation water to be able to have lawns, pastures, landscaping or trees. The amount of water used by the plants will need to be replaced every 3 to 5 days in the summer to maintain them. Most of the small acreage areas are not on city water or sewer, so a well with good quality water and a septic system are required. It is important that the septic system drainage field is separate from the irrigated areas so it functions properly. Irrigating over a septic system reduces the volume in the tank for waste and there is a potential for contaminating the irrigation water if the system leaks.

The well should be located at the high point on the property and also protected from irrigation flows, since the irrigation water will pick up contaminants as it moves across the fields. Irrigating around a well allows water to infiltrate the well column and reduce water quality.

If you buy in a subdivision within an irrigation district, you may be sharing the ditch with several other neighbors and it becomes a community project to set irrigation schedules, maintain the irrigation ditch and arbitrate problems.

While the rural life offers room for all your stuff, the ability to have large animals and room to roam, remember your neighbors may have different ideas. If the property is next to active farmland, there may be tractor operations at odd hours; aerial applications of agricultural chemicals; gnats, flies and other insect pests; weeds; coyotes, gophers, hawks and other bird life as well as agricultural workers, irrigators and lookie-loo’s.

Acreage takes a lot of maintenance to keep it looking clean and neat. Shops, parking and fencing are expensive. While moving to the county is a planned lifestyle change, many do not consider the extra miles that are driven for school and church activities; goods and services need to be planned since it is several miles to town. Many of the conveniences we are used to in town are not as readily available. In many cases, there are not paved roads other than major streets. Dust is a given!

Rural living is a wonderful lifestyle if you are prepared for the challenges and understand all of the work that is involved.

If your dream acreage is in one of the valleys, you will also have to be concerned with the soil under your home, whether it is a clay that will swell and shrink when wet, damaging walls, foundations and floors; how quickly will the rain or irrigation water enter the soil and whether the soil has good drainage; will it be possible to put in a septic system; and other soil-related engineering problems.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has a website called Web Soil Survey. You can look up the specific area you are planning to buy and answer most of the questions I listed above by using the program to investigate the limitations of the soil in your rural getaway. There is no such thing as too much soil information!

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at rjsm09@msn.com.