Agriculture Defines Yuma

2013-04-27 23:28:06


Yuma’s agriculture and the Colorado River go hand in hand. Take the water away and agriculture would likely dry up. What would be the impact to Yuma County if locally grown crops died out?

“It would be pretty devastating,” said George Frisvold, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Arizona.

Without water, farmers can’t grow crops, which means they wouldn’t hire workers, so workers couldn’t spent money at stores, which would lead to layoffs.

“It would just ripple through the economy,” Frisvold noted. “If you’re thinking, I’m not a farmer, that’s not going to affect me, you would be mistaken.”

Frisvold, along with fellow guest speaker Dr. Kurt Nolte, talked about the economic impact of agriculture in Yuma at last week’s Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. Quarterly Investor Luncheon.

The third scheduled speaker, Trent Teegerstrom, an associate specialist with the UA Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, was present but could not participate due to laryngitis.

With 125 years of history in Yuma, “agriculture has an enormous role in the county,” said Nolte, director of the Yuma County Cooperative Extension and the Yuma Agricultural Center with the University of Arizona.

Agriculture is the single largest private sector in the Yuma economy, above real estate, health care, retail, manufacturing, etc. It encompasses 175,000 acres of Colorado River irrigated land.

The “rich, deep and fertile river bottom soils” are perfect for growing more than 200 crops during a 350-day season and with sunshine 95 percent of the daytime.

Yuma’s fresh produce industry includes 22 coolers and nine salad plants as well as two date and three citrus packing facilities.

In short, Nolte noted, “agriculture defines Yuma.” It fuels the local economy through taxable inputs (fuel, equipment, seed etc.), provides employment, contributes to the economic “ripple” effect and is considered the”epicenter” for production of the nation’s winter vegetable.

To fully assess the economic impact of agriculture in Yuma, Frisvold and Teegerstrom have initiated a study that takes a look at the contribution of agriculture to the local economy and what the future impact of agriculture is likely to be. It also looks at employment and compensation and what would happen to Yuma if agriculture disappeared. The final report is due in the fall.

Among the factors being considered are water entitlement (increased competition), input costs (fuel, fertilizer), environment (pests, diseases, weather), commodity associations (food safety, buyers), technology (ag services, technologies and suppliers), labor issues (labor availability, immigration reform), urban growth (roads, infrastructure, theft, public interaction) and regulatory agencies (EPA, FDA, USDA, ADA).

Some preliminary findings indicate that Yuma agriculture tops Arizona crop sales, with $1.4 billion in cash receipts for 2011. “Yuma crop sales are about the same as the next three counties combined (Graham, Pinal and Maricopa),” Frisvold said.

Yuma County is in the top 1 percent of U.S. counties in vegetable sales and acreage and total sales.

Primary agriculture is the single largest economic sector, accounting for nearly $1 billion of metro Yuma’s gross domestic product. (At $5.3 billion — which is bigger than 40 countries — Yuma’s metropolitan area would rank 152 out of 195 countries.)

Local farm owners receive a much larger share of total proprietors’ earnings — 40 percent — compared with 7 percent nationally.

Frisvold pointed out that while farm contributions to the economy are large, they are also volatile. “That’s the nature of the business; some years are really good and some years not so good.”

However, farm earnings led Yuma out of recession. “Getting out of the recession, growth in farming turned out to be pretty important,” he said.

The next phase in the study is to analyze agriculture’s “input and output.” The researchers will measure flows to and from industries and institutions in the regional economy as well as examining the industry’s “multiplier effects,” i.e., jobs, personal income, taxes, etc.

Frisvold noted that he believes agriculture in Yuma is here to stay. Urban growth shouldn’t threaten the industry, as it can sustain a significant growth in population.

Computer models show that “ag stays in Yuma,” he said. “It’s more resilient than any other part in the West.”