While looking at The Arizona Republic’s temperature review for July 2019, I was surprised to learn that our weather, though it seems extreme, is really not too much different than it was last year. I guess we tend to forget from year to year that the weather we are experiencing is really pretty normal for this time of year. Now we will see about the coming humidity!
There are more fields unplanted at this time of year than any other as the transition from our spring and summer crops gives way to produce planting and transplanting in late July. Off and on during the year, articles appear in publications talking about air quality and types of pollutants in Yuma. Parts of western Yuma County are still showing as being a nonattainment area for PM10 dust particles. This is mainly because the Arizona Department of Environment Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency cannot agree on criteria to achieve attainment. Farmers have been utilizing best management practices on their farms for 40 years or more in Yuma. Watering county dirt roads and field roads for dust control is a major expense for growers. Tillage operations are combined so that there are fewer tractor trips through the fields. Equipment has been designed to prevent dust from leaving the fields. One of the problems is land ownership patterns in Yuma County.
Yuma County has a land area of 5,561 square miles of desert interspersed with rugged mountains. An abundance of farmable lands in the valley regions combined with a warm, dry climate and ample supplies of quality irrigation water support a thriving agricultural industry. About 4% of the county’s land area is cropland. An additional important statistic is that only 7% of Yuma County land is private property. The other 93% is owned by the state of Arizona, Bureau of Land Management, military, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Reclamation and Native Americans. Since agriculture makes up 50-plus percent of the revenues in the county, the croplands are extremely important to all Yuma County residents.
Since the housing boom of the early 2000s ended, there has been less pressure on the croplands to be converted to other uses. With the strengthening economy, the possibility of prime croplands being purchased for development increases. There is a move by the city and county to encourage infill of lands that were skipped during the era of leapfrog development. Good land use planning suggests that the infill be prioritized over rezoning of agricultural properties. Looking at the successful long-term businesses that have come to Yuma in the past 15 years, most were support or enhancement industries to either agriculture or the military. Hopefully this trend will continue as well as new jobs that will utilize the talents of our local workforce.
A Farmland Conversion Impact Rating program was developed during the 1980s to assist land managers, planning and zoning boards and governmental groups to determine the suitability for a property to be developed. One of the first questions is whether the site contains prime, unique, statewide or local, important farmlands. Next, it looks at the acres to be directly converted as well as indirectly converted acres affected by the development.
The next questions relate to the parcel itself: if the area is in nonurban use; percent of site being farmed; distance from urban built-up areas; distance to urban support services; size of the present farm unit compared with average; creation of nonfarmable land; and compatibility with existing agricultural use. The use of this type of system provides uniformity, and repeatable and consistent decision making. With our irrigation districts, it maintains the integrity of water delivery systems, maintains water quality, reduces maintenance and labor, and promotes food safety.
It takes 100-plus years for an inch of soil to form in an undisturbed area; every inch is important when it comes to farmland. As I am so fond of saying, don’t treat soil like dirt!
Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a retired soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at email@example.com.