News

Trucks Help Drive Yuma’s Agriculture Economy

Feb. 11th, 2012
James Gilbert

Getting all the fresh vegetables grown during the winter growing season in Yuma-area fields to tables across the country couldn’t be done without the hundreds of trucks that come to the 23 cooling plants in the Yuma area day after day. Agriculture contributes about $3.1 billion to Yuma’s economy each year, and these trucks are a big part of that. “These trucks are pumping a lot of money into Yuma’s economy,” said Joleen Green, manager for Barney’s Auto Truck Plaza, 10800 North Frontage Road. “There are a lot of small businesses, and large businesses, that need the truckers.” Green said on any given day, there can be more than 100 trucks in the Barney’s parking lot, and not all of them are there just to buy fuel. She said when the trucks do buy fuel, though, they can spend several hundred dollars each time. “It can take up to $900 worth of fuel or more each time. Some trucks top off and don’t put in the full amount, while others will fill both their truck and reefer unit.” While it is difficult to put a number of the amount of trucks in the area during the busy winter vegetable harvest, estimates are as many as 900 to 1,200 per day. There are 23 cooling plants in the Yuma area, with about 40 to 50 trucks a day visiting each one. Green added that sometimes these trucks need to be repaired, or purchase tires or other parts and services while in Yuma, which also pumps money into the local economy. And depending on the load they are picking up, they could have a layover and stay at an area motel. “Some could stay for several days. It depends on what company they get the loads from. They sit here and wait for their dispatcher to call them and tell them what packing shed to go to.” When that happens, Green said, they also spend money in the community while shopping, eating at restaurants, visiting local sights and taking in various entertainment. “Seems like I’m always being asked where the nearest Walmart is,” Green said. Ken Gilliland, director of transportation and international trade for the Western Growers Association, said very few of these trucks are actually locally owned. Most are what are known as independent/operators hired by transportation logistic companies, known as truck brokers, which work closely with these independent owner/operators. Gilliland said when companies such as Dole, Fresh Express and Fresh Innovations have product they need transported from their salad processing plants in Yuma, they will contact one of these truck brokers, which will arrange for a truck to come to the plant to pick it up and take it to its destination. It’s a process repeated many times over the course of the day at all of the area cooling plants. “Their job (the truck broker) is to connect the companies that have product they need transported, with the trucks that can take it to its destination,” Gilliland said. Since these trucks don’t operate from an established facility, Gilliland said, they are usually driving back and forth across the country. As such, when a truck finishes delivering a load it picked up on the East Coast, it will be hired by one of these brokers to go to Yuma and pick up a load that is ready for delivery elsewhere. Because of the interstates, Gilliland said, there are millions of customers within a day’s truck haul of Yuma. Ken Rosevear, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, said the sales tax on all of the purchases these trucks make stays in the community and is a large part of the city’s sales tax revenue. Also the state of Arizona collects a gas and fuel tax as part of its Highway User Revenue Fund, of which a portion is returned to the counties and cities to take care of local streets and roads. But the contribution that agriculture vehicles make to the local economy goes far beyond the transit truck traffic, Rosevear said. He said there is another entire agriculture transportation industry within Yuma County, which includes tractors and other farm machinery, as well as the farm trucks that deliver the loads of freshly picked produce from fields around the county to the cooling plants where they are packed for shipping. Every one of those agriculture-related vehicles, Rosevear said, is registered and insured locally and was probably even bought from a Yuma car dealership. He said they also purchase fuel every day as well as other parts and services. They may even, he said, generate more city sales tax revenue than the commercial trucking does, given their sheer number. But it doesn’t stop there. Rosevear said there are also probably hundreds of labor buses going from field to field every day during the busy winter vegetable harvest. Those buses, he said, carry thousands of field workers who buy food, drinks and equipment they need every day from local businesses. Rosevear also said numerous businesses in the Yuma area cater specifically to the local agriculture industry, several of which are fuel companies and mechanic shops. He said you can also include aerial spraying of the fields and the vehicles used to support them. James Gilbert can be reached at jgilbert@yumasun.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.

James Gilbert
Sun Staff Writer
The Sun
Feb. 11th, 2012