Yuma Ag and You: Reflections from our Young Farmers and Ranchers

Bobbi Stevenson McDermott     October 2, 2016 publication

The fields throughout Yuma County are turning green after our short ‘brown season’. As we watch the myriad of fall vegetable, herb and seed crops being planted and watered, it is a great time to think about to whom the farmland these crops are being planted on belongs. In Yuma, 95 percent of our farmland is owned by local families, some now into their fifth generation on the land. While it may appear that large companies: Dole, Tanimura & Antle, Foxy, Taylor Farms and many other names you see during the winter production season own the farms, it is actually local families. The fields are just leased for the production of winter crops. Economically, as the agricultural industry fights to continue providing food to the United States and the world, the trade rules, international agreements and marketing challenges are constantly in play.

Over the years, the local Natural Resource Conservation Districts have encouraged our youth to go into the agricultural industry by providing scholarships toward their studies. Part of the scholarship application is an essay on what they see as the major challenges facing Yuma County agriculture. Excerpts from their 2016 essays show that that Yuma County farms will be in good hands.

From the first letter, “As I progress, I believe more and more that is the best possible decision in studying business through ASUV and the honors program. This is the first time in my academic where I actually feel challenged in my classes, which is imperative if am to further strengthen American Agriculture. I believe the strength of agriculture today is a product of the rapidly expanding global marketplace. With such a large number of buyers and sellers able to communicate instantaneously and do business across the globe, Farmer John’s food and fiber may end up anywhere in the world. Naturally, the enormous scale of the market for agricultural products actuates a chain of innovation and discovery where competitive companies are developing the most efficient crops and chemicals for crop improvement. With competition in agriculture moving from local to global, we will soon see all of the major inefficiencies of agriculture minimized as the strongest competitors improve their practices”

The second student wrote, “There are many problems that the American farmer must deal with, but today I will limit my discussion to the topics of increasing the minimum wage and water management and conservation. This past year California set a plan that will increase the states’ minimum wage to 17 dollars an hour by the year 2021. Many states have increased their minimum wage and Arizona is probably not far behind in this trend. Higher minimum wages hurt us all. I believe an increase in minimum wage will result in the loss of job opportunities for millions of Americans and an escalated push to mechanization which will reduce the number of jobs available. This will cause many businesses to lay off employees and cause the price of their services to increase. Growers of labor intensive crops such as fruits, berries and vine crops will find it nearly impossible to compete in the global marketplace unless they find a way to harvest with less labor. Farm employers will be forced to hire fewer workers because of the increased cost of business. Many farmers could be forced to grow their produce in different states with lower minimum wages or grow less labor intensive crops to survive.

Farmers must also be prepared to make responsible decisions in the management of the world’s most valuable and limited resource, water. Water is a limited commodity and periods of drought can be devastating. The southwestern United States is currently in the middle of an extreme drought and a state of emergency has been declared in several areas of Arizona and California. The greatly reduced snow pack that typically provides about one third of the water needed by these states fuels the problem. Farmers must continue to be proactive in protecting Arizona water from the hands of other states that are trying to get it; we must also continue to fund research for the most efficient irrigation systems to conserve water.”

The depth of thought and analysis by these students under the age of 25 shows that this fourth and fifth generation of Yuma County farmers really ‘get it’. The wise use and management of our soil and water resources by these young farmers will assure the success of Yuma County agriculture into the future.