Yuma Ag and You: Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture

Bobbi Stevenson McDermott   May 22, 2016 publication

Yuma County farmers have always been known for their forward looking farming practices. They are quick to recognize the changing conditions they deal with including water, crop production practices, labor, food safety, homeland security, stresses of the desert environment and other challenges. In 2013 a group of eight growers from the Yuma and Salinas areas formed a council to advise the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) on future trends and issues that will affect the industry. The U of A CALS dean is an ex-officio member of the council.

In 2014, Paul Brierley was hired as executive director. He has been very busy getting the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture (YECDA) up and running.

Ag faces many challenges as they work to meet the goal of producing 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population and a widespread expansion of the middle class. More food will need to be produced on less land with reduced water and other inputs. Plant diseases and plant pests are on the increase due to climate change and other factors. These limit productivity and profitability, making production agriculture less sustainable. The public, especially in affluent nations, clamors for healthy foods such as fresh produce with growing demand for organically produced products.

The Yuma Center is looking to apply advanced technology to become more productive and sustainable. Genetic improvements, both GMO and non-GMO, allow for crop yield, quality and nutritional increases and resistance to diseases and pests. Increased mechanization allows crops to be tended without today’s labor-intensive methods. This is extremely important as the labor pool for agriculture is shrinking rapidly.

GPS is commonly used in our farming practices but expanding the use of satellite positioning systems will add accuracy and economy to many planting, tillage, fertilizing, weeding and harvest operations. The addition of remote sensing drones can help growers spot insect, disease, weed or nutrient problems before they become serious.

Recent activities of the Center include partnering to host America’s Competitive Exchange, a contingent of 51 high level officials from 24 countries to showcase our innovative efforts here. May 20 to 22, 2016 the Center hosts an Ag Startup Weekend in Yuma. This events goal is to provide budding entrepreneurs a chance to learn about opportunities in Ag and team up to launch startups to address them. Some of the partners of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture are Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology; Western Growers Food Safety/Science and Technology Committee; Center for Produce Safety, and Forbes AgTech Summit.

As Arizona’s Land Grant University, U of A provides teaching, research and extension (outreach). Yuma is the only location outside of Tucson to provide all three phases. The YECDA is a public-partnership funded by the Agricultural Industry and housed at the University.

Examples of the work being done include studies of Fusarium Wilt of Lettuce, a devastating soil-borne disease, to find resistant varieties, crop protection tools and management practices to fight the disease. Another project is to develop a bird deterrent system that will avoid the crop damage and food safety issues that flocks of birds create. University researchers and advanced technology companies are working to develop and high-tech to develop real-time pathogen detection; improved Ag mechanization and underground imaging methods.

The pioneering projects will lead to new technologies, management practices, data and tools that could result in licensing opportunities and creation of spin-off companies to bring technology solutions to agriculture. In the process, Yuma’s entrepreneurial businesses will be enhanced along with the high-tech Ag industry in Yuma, leading to economic growth for the County.