Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott Sept. 4, 2016 publication
Have you ever thought about what the grower, harvester and buyer of the wonderful variety of produce grown in Yuma County have to go through to get it to your table? The process starts even as the last fields are being harvested in March and April.
First, contracts for the final products need to be obtained by the grower. In today’s market, very few fields of ‘open’ or not contracted produce crops are grown. Since the cost of growing is $3500 to $4000 per acre or more, the grower wants to know he has a market. Being a produce grower is not an easy job. The packers and buyers want to know that the quantity and quality of the crops they will handle will be uniform throughout the growing season to keep the grocery stores, restaurants, schools and hundreds of other consumers happy.
The grower next looks at all the farms they have to grow produce on. Where are the fields located? What is the temperature at those fields during the growing season? What crops are being grown in the surrounding fields? Are there potential food safety concerns due to field location? Which crops grow best on which soils? Next, it is time to decide on the specific variety of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli or one of the 175 crops grown in Yuma County, to be planted. Now it is time to order the seed to be used which needs to be kept chilled before planting to maintain viability.
Meticulous records need to be kept on each field as to planting date, chemical and fertilizer application, crop variety, projected harvest date and irrigation records. If there are any questions during the growing season, the grower must be able to respond accurately.
Now we get to field preparation. Since all of our Yuma County fields are basin leveled, (pool table flat), our farmers are very efficient in their field layout. With the development of GPS systems for use in agriculture, fields are prepared with lasers levelers to establish the flat condition. Tractors with produce bed shapers, come to the edge of the field and utilize the GPS system to ‘drive’ the tractor through the field. At the end of a row, the operator turns the tractor around, lines it up on the field and engages the satellite system to make the next set of rows.
When the planter or transplanter plants the field, it hooks into the same satellite coordinates that the bed shaper did. If mechanical tillage is needed after the crop is growing, again the tractor operator utilizes the same coordinates. This allows for very accurate application of agricultural chemicals, where they are best utilized by the plants and weed control that does not also remove part of the crop you are growing.
Once the seed or transplants are in the ground, sprinklers are immediately installed to start the growing cycle. Many of the baby lettuce, spinach, mixed greens and other short growing season crops (35-40 days) are sprinkled throughout their growing, depending on the temperatures. Others are sprinkled for a couple of weeks until well established and then the sprinklers removed and the field returned to flood irrigation. Using sprinklers to germinate produce seed or water seedling transplants saves the grower a tremendous amount of water, up to 2 feet or more in the growing cycle.
It is an amazing achievement that our Yuma County growers can consistently, year after year, produce the wonderful fresh produce that we all enjoy, so efficiently.