Yuma Ag and You: There is No New Land

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott      March 13, 2016 publication

Another challenging winter produce season is coming to a close! No two years are ever alike. Many of the features of our farming have been evolving over many years so I will take you on a walk down memory lane concerning basin leveling, large volume irrigation and use of the laser in farming.

In December, 1958, the Wellton-Mohawk Valley was recognized for their precise basin type leveling of farmland. The fields with heavier silt loam soils were flat in all directions. In those days, sandier fields were leveled with fall in the direction of irrigation, but no side fall. Most of the fields were designed on 660 foot irrigation runs. These practices were designed to save water and labor. The practice of benching, or leveling fields in stair step fashion, was used to prevent the removal of good topsoil and prevent exposing coarse underlying soils. When leveling, at least 18 inches of good topsoil is left on the field to provide a good growing environment for crops.

Not only was basin leveling a common practice in Wellton-Mohawk in 1958, the use of large irrigation streams were common. Concrete ditches capable of efficiently delivering the water were engineered and were installed. A carefully planned leveling design, correlated with soil types and depths was essential. Supporting practices such as concrete lined ditched, properly spaced turnouts and borders, assured efficient application of irrigation water. The system properly installed and maintained , with good management, will allow the operator to maintain optimum crop growth at minimum expense.

In addition to the very progressive farm planning and irrigation management, there were concerns about the stability of the food supply. In July, 1958, an article in the Yuma Sun stated, “Yuma County, being the site of one of the oldest as well as one of the newest federal reclamation projects, has been particularly susceptible in recent years to a certain criticism. That criticism is usually expressed as a question. The question is ‘When the nation’s warehouses are bulging with farm surpluses, what is the sense of developing new cropland?’ The existence of farm surpluses cannot be denied. Likewise, it is well known that acreage quotas and soil banks are designed to reduce farm production. How, then can new federal projects to reclaim additional cropland be justified? An editorial in the Saturday Evening Post furnishes the answer. ‘Something extraordinary is going to happen to the United States which never happened before’ says the Post. ‘It will be a permanent food shortage.,”

Isn’t it amazing how true these words written 56 years ago are. Hunger in the United States is wide spread and may families live with insufficient food.

Another projection from the 50’s had to do with the increasing population in the United States. Population in 1950 was estimated at 150 million people, with 3.1 acres of farmland per person. The projection was that by 1975, there would be 228 million people (Google 216,000) and the amount of cropland reduced to 2.2 acres per capita. By 2000 the article projected 335,000 (Google 282,000 million people) reducing cropland per person to 1.6 acres. The heart of the problem was that 3 acres of cropland was required to supply the average person with adequate nutrition. Maximum development and preservation of America’s croplands will shortly become a national necessity.

Wise use of our soil and water resources has never been more important to assure a safe and bountiful supply of food to the United States and the world. Since 2007 Arizona has lost almost 6 percent of its farm, ranch and forestlands to other uses. New technology and crops continually are added to food production, but there is no new land being created.