Yuma Ag and You: Yuma Area Agricultural Council’s Tour

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott      Dec. 22, 2015 publication

City and county officials, you blew it! As a member of the Yuma Area Agricultural Council (YAAC), a non-profit formed to promote the value of agriculture in Yuma County and the State of Arizona, I was shocked at the poor participation of the elected officials invited to participate in the biannual Yuma County Elected Officials 2015 Ag Tour.

Kudos, to the handful of participants from Yuma, San Luis and Somerton.

I realize that elected officials at city and county levels are busy, but this event consisted of dinner on Thursday evening and a tour from 5 am to 1:30 pm on Friday which included breakfast and lunch.

Had you come, you would have heard a wonderful presentation at dinner by Sarah Porter, the inaugural director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy which promotes research, analysis and consensus in support of sound water stewardship solutions for Arizona and the West.

Friday morning, you would have taken ‘the walk of the farm workers’ at the San Luis Port of entry. The amazing volume of workers, school children, buses and bicycles crossing the border each morning is something to see. Yuma’ s agricultural industry would come to a standstill without these skilled, hard working men and women. At 5 am, the businesses of San Luis are open to serve all those crossing.

You would have stood in the entry lanes of the Port, after an enlightening presentation by the port director John Schwamm who told us that 3.2 million vehicles cross at San Luis, making it the busiest port on the border. CBP (Customs and Border Protection) is the first line of defense and Yuma County is fortunate to have a practical, experienced and forward thinking director working to make crossing the border a positive experience.

At the Comite de Bien Estar, breakfast was served and speakers spoke about labor and the potential impacts of immigration reform as well water issues from the Irrigation District viewpoint.

Next, a bus ride through the fields where facts and figures about Yuma agriculture were learned. Did you know that each salad plant needs 2 million pounds of lettuce per day to operate? We have 10 salad plants in Yuma, and if each head of lettuce weighed 2 pounds, 10 million heads of lettuce need to be cut each day! That is just one of the 150 plus winter crops grown on Yuma County farmlands. A stop at a romaine field and the opportunity to talk with a 5th generation Yuma farmer, a harvest crew foreman and workers harvesting the crop was enlightening. With food safety regulations, no one is allowed in fields but we gloved up and put on hairnets to experience walking the fields. It is so important that our elected officials understand the effect that their decisions have on the number one industry in Yuma County. One in 5 jobs is in agriculture or related support industries.

From the romaine field, a tour of Condor Seed revealed the tremendous vegetable seed industry located in Yuma County. Warehouses of seed cleaning equipment, bins cleaned seed, refrigerated seed storage, and packaging equipment were viewed. Did you know that seed in storage needs to be tested every 6 months to make sure it still viable? This involves sampling thousands of seed lots to maintain a quality product.

Medjool dates were the topic of a tour of Datepac, a farmer cooperative date packing industry. The medjool date is grown only in Yuma, AZ, Bard, CA and the Indio, CA area.

Lunch was catered by the Main Street Café in Somerton, AZ, a wonderful eatery featuring locally produced foods. Issues from the Wellton-Mohawk Valley were presented including the need to solve the PM-10 Air Quality Non-attainment status of the City of Yuma and the need for maintenance on the county roads in the east county. Since dust is a contaminant for food safety, farmers spend millions in time, labor, water and equipment watering unpaved roads to prevent damage to their crops from August through April.

It is the responsibility of every elected official to be acquainted with the businesses and industries that provide the tax dollars needed to run the cities and county. How is it possible to plan and make decisions when you are uninformed? You missed a great tour and an opportunity to personally make a difference.

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