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Yuma agribusinessman believes involvement critical
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Ask Yuma agribusinessman Robby Barkley about the organizations and causes he's been involved in or lent a hand to over the years, and he's hard pressed to recall them all.
“I can't keep track,” he acknowledges. “People ask if I'll help out and I do.”
He is trying to learn to say no, though. “I'd like some time for myself, to hunt and fish.”
Apparently he does find some time for those outdoor pursuits, judging by the trophy heads in his office at Barkley Seed.
But he's definitely logged some frequent-flyer miles. For example, on a recent Friday he flew to Salinas, Calif., to visit farming operations there he has an interest in, then spent the next Monday and Tuesday at meetings in Seattle.
That's a fairly typical week, he said, estimating that he's gone one-third of his time. “I travel nearly every week ... sometimes it gets to be work.”
He said that with a smile, though, admitting that he finds his involvement enriching.
“It never gets boring. And I signed up for it. It helps you grow as a person. It's hard to sit in one spot and not reach out to touch the world around you. We all make our living selling products to the community, and we have an obligation to give back.”
And, he said, “I've made some great friendships. The agriculture industry is the best in the world and the people are what make it so great.”
Besides, Barkley said, being involved at all levels from local to international is smart business. “If you're just focused on yourself, there aren't as many opportunities. If you're not at the table, you don't have a voice. You have to be involved ... it's mandatory. It creates more business opportunities for everybody.”
This from a Yuma-based agribusinessman who has done business around the nation and around the world to such far-flung places as Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia to Italy.
The roots of the agriculture operation Barkley heads up stretch back years and through the ranks of his family. It began with Hugh Barkley, who came here in 1910 to farm on Yuma Valley land owned by his uncle, Fin Barkley. Another of Fin's nephews, Les Barkley, joined Hugh in 1918.
Eventually Hugh returned to northern California, while Les stayed in Yuma, married and had three children. One of them, James, was Barkley's father.
Barkley observed that all of his grandparents arrived in Yuma in the early 1900s, coming from northern Mexico, the Midwest, northern California and Texas, drawn by the opportunities to farm opened up by the 1902 Reclamation Act.
His father took over in the late 1940s and built up the business, forming Barkley Seed and Grain that now operates as part of Barkley Ag Enterprises. He was killed in a plane crash in 1979 and a year later, Barkley took over at the age of 26.
The company began exporting wheat seed and grain around the world. At one time, it was the largest supplier of certified wheat seed to Saudi Arabia until that country began producing its own. Today, the company markets durum wheat, primarily to Italy for pasta production.
Barkley estimates that 60 percent of the company's grain business revenue is generated from export sales.
Three years ago, the company also got back into the winter vegetable business as a producer, processor and shipper and developed the Greengate processing plant.
All that far-flung business has gotten Barkley involved in a number of organizations that reach beyond Yuma to the state, region, nation and offshore.
It started with his being elected to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association board in the early 1980s. A few years later, he found himself on the board of Supima Association to promote long-staple cotton around the world. That led to a seat on the National Cotton Council.
In the 1990s, Barkley joined the boards of the Arizona Wheat Growers Association and of Western Growers, an organization for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry in California and Arizona. He chaired that board in 2009-10 and is still active on it.
Probably his most memorable moment was when the University of Arizona awarded him an honorary doctorate for his work with the Ag 100 Council, which supports and promotes UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Another educational organization he's been involved with supports the Bio5 Institute to advance research at the UA.
“I support any kind of education. If we all get together, we can do more. It's the best investment we can make in our kids' — any kids' — future.”