Yuma Ag and You: The Success of Family Farming

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott     March 29, 2015 Publication

Yuma is an remarkable place to live and work. There truly is a feeling of community throughout the varied businesses and the agricultural industry that surrounds the urban areas. While all work together for the success of our area, I would like to highlight the family farms.

Yuma County is an amazing example of the success of family farming. According to Webster’s dictionary, a family farm is a farm on which the farmer and members of his family do a substantial portion of the work. Many of us have memories of the farms of the 1900’s, independent units of land, farmed by generations of family members. Visitors and locals alike look at the Yuma farms of the 2000’s with their large acreages, massive equipment, numerous employees and the presence of the world’s largest vegetable packers and shippers and think that farmlands in Yuma County are ‘factory farms’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our local agricultural industry is run by 2nd through 5th generation farmers who were born and raised in Yuma County. As farming has changed over the years, so has the definition of the family farm. Today, a preferred definition of a family farm would allow for organizational changes in the way in which operators structure their farm businesses as they respond to changes in technology, the marketplace and policies, but still capture the general concept of a family farm in which a family unit maintains majority control and ownership. According to USDA, the share of U.S. farms classified as family farms has changed little since 1996, ranging from 97.1 percent to 98.3 percent of all farms.

One of the most important and impressive fact about Yuma family farmers is their connection and support of the local communities and residents. From the support of local schools by providing assistance in creating school site gardens so children can grow and eat their own produce to their generosity in donating land and monies to local causes for the betterment of the community.

The winter visitors and locals benefits greatly from the farmers participation in the Field to Feast tours offered during our winter produce season by the Yuma Visitors Bureau. Youth events are enthusiastically supported whether it be sports teams, 4-H activities or FFA. How many cartons of produce and other commodities have been donated to the Food Bank and local social service agencies by family farmers?

As I teach at Arizona Western College, the farming community is extremely supportive of my students in providing opportunities for on-farm experiences. That goes for the equipment dealers, agricultural chemical industry and seed industry. Students are fortunate to have such a tremendous learning laboratory available to them. In addition, many internships are available to students to give them hands on experience.

There is no doubt that farms in Yuma have greater acreage, grow a wider variety of crops, use advanced technology and face unique challenges to succeed in their industry. With all the changes, Yuma County farmers are still family farmers.