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Yuma County's newest lawmaker finds agriculture tour enlightening
Yuma County's newest state lawmaker, Rep.-elect Darin Mitchell, is on a steep learning curve to learn about the area he will serve at the state capitol come January.
Mitchell, a resident of Litchfield Park, was elected as one of two representatives for the newly formed Legislative District 13 that includes a large part of Yuma County and western Maricopa County.
As part of his “homework,” he participated in the Yuma Ag Council's recent Legislative Tour that brings lawmakers, staff members and agency representatives to Yuma to learn more about agriculture here.
The tour included a visit to the JBS Five River-McElhaney Feedlot, the YUCO cotton gin, a produce processing plant and area fields, as well as an early-morning trip to the San Luis port of entry to observe the thousands of workers crossing the border to work the crops in Yuma.
Lawmakers also received a crash course from Herb Guenther on the Colorado River, the lifeblood of Yuma's $3.2 billion agriculture industry. To make the presentation, Guenther, former director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, flew to Yuma for the evening from Las Vegas, where he had been attending the Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference.
Mitchell said the tour was a good opportunity to learn more about the issues facing Yuma County and to meet area farmers. It's information he will put to good use as a member of the House of Representatives Agriculture and Water Committee. He also will serve on the Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee, another major issue for LD 13 that includes Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Yuma Proving Ground.
Both committees were his first choices, he said. “They're the most important to the district.”
Mitchell said that during the tour he was particularly impressed with the science that goes into agriculture — the high technology scheduling and production of crops here. “The business side of the industry is all new to me.”
He's also met with CAP (Central Arizona Project) and toured the canal system that carries Colorado River water to central Arizona.
“I'm looking at what we're facing ... the rising cost of water, shortages and the desalination plant (in Yuma),” he said. “We all have a vested interest in the river.”
Although he is a resident of Maricopa County, he said he intends to be a “cheerleader” for Yuma County. So is Steve Montenegro, the other LD 13 representative.
“We live in Maricopa County, but Yuma County is part of our district, too,” Mitchell concluded.
He was one of 50 people who took the tour, among them 13 other legislative freshmen and representatives of such agencies as the Arizona Commerce Authority and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, as well as the chief of staff for U.S. Congressman Paul Gossar and a representative for U.S. Sen.-elect Jeff Flake.
“It's a fantastic turnout,” said Anthony Busellato of Yuma Ag Council. “These are people who really need to know about Yuma.”
Rep. Frank Pratt, who represents Pinal and Gila counties, was a repeat participant on the tour, but felt it was important to get the refresher course. He's no stranger to Yuma County, though, having farmed here at one time – and his brother and nephew still do.
“I feel the tour is important for the legislators,” said Pratt, vice chairman of the Agriculture and Water Committee and chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“The presentation is very appropriate for legislation that might cross our desk,” he said.
The tour also provided an opportunity for new and veteran lawmakers to get to know each other, Pratt observed. “It's all built on trust and negotiation.”
Adam McAnnally of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce also hitched a ride on the tour, saying that with agriculture such a big part of the Arizona economy — and he loves to eat — it's important even for the metropolitan area to know the issues facing the industry.