Raising a crop, in particular high-value crops such as Yuma's lettuce production, could be likened to raising a child.
They both involve advance preparation, careful tending in infancy that evolves as child and crop mature, and an array of goods and services to nurture them along the way, noted Kurt Nolte, director of the Yuma County Cooperative Extension. And both require an extensive investment.
The 2009 farm census indicates Yuma County had 531 farms averaging 1,435 acres each. Providing support for them in their production of food and fiber were 411 agricultural-related businesses in Yuma County, according to the Yuma agribusiness profile published in 2008 by the Arizona Department of Commerce.
Some are small, local businesses. Others are national and even multinational in scope. Together, they represent millions of dollars in capital investments, significant property taxes and thousands of jobs. They're also good neighbors, contributing to the community through their support of a variety of causes with their dollars and their time.
These agribusinesses all provide something farmers need to produce a crop — from tractors and farm equipment that till, level and prepare the ground to the seed that's planted and the fertilizer and water to nurture it, as well as the chemicals needed to protect it from disease, weeds and insects. There's the companies that provide sprinkler pipe, businesses that keep the farm equipment running and labor contractors who bring in the thousands of workers needed to thin and weed growing crops and finally to harvest, process and pack them for distribution around the nation and the world.
Take that lettuce crop.
Crop budgets are prepared for the production of crops, listing inputs, their cost and timelines. According to a crop budget for iceberg lettuce grown in the Yuma Valley 2001 valued at $4,328 per acre, inputs to produce that crop from ground preparation to harvest totaled $3,287 per acre. That doesn't include the cost of ownership or water assessment.
Some of the agribusinesses that provide those vital services and goods include:
• Booth Machinery is a locally owned dealer for Case IH tractors, combines, planters and farm equipment. The business has been owned by Dennis Booth since the mid-1980s and expanded into a new, much larger facility in 1999. In addition to the facility being a busy hub for farm equipment sales, rental and service, Booth throws open the doors to his training room for a variety of community meetings, from the Yuma County Farm Bureau to political forums.
• Select Seed of Arizona, begun by Louis Didier in 1984, is now owned by his son Mike and daughter Keri. The company is an independent dealer of vegetable seed representing more than 15 seed development and breeding companies. It has 12 employees and sells approximately 12 percent of the vegetable seed planted in Yuma County. It is a supporter of Hospice of Yuma, the Yuma County Food Bank and agriculture education, including FFA and scholarships.
• Gowan Company got its start by Jon Jessen in 1963 to provide agriculture services and products to local growers. Today, while still based in Yuma and family-owned, Gowan Company has grown into a multimillion-dollar international company with several divisions that provide a variety of crop protection products. In Yuma, those divisions include Gowan Milling that does contract blending, formulation and packaging of farm chemicals; Desert Depot is a warehouse; Dune Company of Yuma provides crop protection adviser services and retail sales; and JCo is a new fertilizer division. It has also branched out to Gowan Seed, Bard Date Company and Castle Dome Solutions, which applies the water-soluble packaging technology used for farm chemicals to other products. Gowan has about 500 employees in the U.S., the majority of them in Yuma. Its proudest community contribution is the Gowan Achievement Project (GAP), a partnership between the Gowan Company and Crane Elementary School District to fund special classes for advanced students.
• Water Tech was started in 1982 in Brawley and has had a Yuma office since 1991, selling, renting and repairing sprinkler pipe and pumps. Today it supplies the aluminum sprinkler pipe that lines the fields of several Yuma-area vegetable growers to irrigate the emerging crops. It also designs and installs drip irrigation systems for a variety of crops. A good neighbor, the business supports the Yuma County Fair, Southwest Ag Summit and various charities.
• The Growers Company headquartered in Somerton was established in 1976 as a farm labor contractor. Today, under the guidance of Sonny Rodriguez, president of the business, it provides hundreds of seasonal workers to work the area's vegetable fields, from thinning and weeding to harvesting the crops in the winter months. Rodriguez also is active in various agriculture organizations, such as Western Growers and Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association. He and his wife support local causes such as Hospice and Yuma Regional Medical Center Foundation.
• Even the cardboard boxes used to pack the lettuce and other crops are produced in a local plant opened in 1988 by Weyerhaeuser and later sold to International Paper.
This is but a brief list of the various businesses critical to the Yuma-area's multimillion-dollar fresh vegetable industry.
“A lot of components are required,” concluded Nolte. “Agribusiness is very diverse and a highly skilled group. Yuma is fortunate to have them to support agriculture here. They contribute to the production of crops but they're also here to live. Their impact on the local economy is significant.”