By Lisa Sturgis
The Biden Administration’s infrastructure plan devotes $8 billion dollars to solving the West’s dire water problems.
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema wants to spend some of that money here in Yuma County.
The Senator recently came to Yuma to meet with growers and researchers to find out where to write the checks.
And she learned the Yuma Valley and its ag industry are ripe for investment.
The Western U.S. is currently in the worst drought it’s seen in 20 years.
As of October of last year, more than 52 percent of the West is experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought.
Now the Biden administration’s infrastructure is allowing the federal government to invest billions of dollars into western water issues.
Sen. Sinema wants to spend some of that money here in Yuma County.
“My goal now that the President has signed this into law is to birddog this to make sure Arizona gets every penny, every single penny that it is due and that it qualifies for,” Sinema said.
The Senator recently held a roundtable discussion in Yuma with local growers and researchers to learn more about where to make investments and found plenty of opportunities.
Ag is a $3 billion industry in Yuma County, accounting for more than a third of Arizona’s agricultural revenue and providing most of the country’s wintertime vegetables.
“Our farms feed much of America, so today’s meeting was about figuring out how to take those dollars and get them quickly into the Yuma system,” Sinema said.
The Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture hosted the discussion.
YCEDA is part farm, part laboratory and all about learning more about growing crops in a low desert environment.
Six years ago, the center’s researchers started studying how to best irrigate in the area’s salty soil.
Salt absorbs water from the soil and keeps it away from plants’ roots.
That makes plants smaller, reduces crop yield, and impacts produce quality.
Researchers learned crop choice, rotation patterns and irrigation practices could help mitigate the impacts of salty soil on crops.
But scientists didn’t make those discoveries on their own.
Input from growers across the Yuma Valley provided researchers with key real-world insights.
Senator Sinema says the center’s public-private partnerships really makes a difference.
“Not only do they understand the conditions, they’re doing the top-level research to prepare for the conditions of tomorrow,” she said.
The combination of top-quality crops and top-level research isn’t new for Yuma County.
Robert Barkley’s family has been farming here since the early 1900’s.
Barkley is the CEO of Barkley Enterprises and chairs YCEDA’s advisory council.
He says Yuma has a history of both innovation and collaboration.
“Back in the late 60’s, early 70’s, there was a lot of work done on irrigation and irrigation systems in the area and that work was taken, what was learned was taken to Israel and now they’re bringing back what they have improved upon, and then working on it here,” Barkley said.
Dean Shane Burgess says YCEDA continues that work today.
“People were flying in from Israel, from the Netherlands, all around the world to come here, because this has become a center of innovation,” Burgess said.
Barkley says Yuma’s growers are happy to share their knowledge, which each other and with the world.
“We’re unique because we all work together,” he said. “We compete, but we cooperate. We do things to make us all better. The old saying ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, you know, let’s all work together to make things better and then we can compete in that arena.”
Sen. Sinema says that’s why she’s making sure new federal investment makes its way to Yuma.