Yuma County: America’s Winter Vegetable Capital
Yuma County is the nation’s third largest vegetable producer! With rich soil, water access and more than 350 days of sunshine a year, Yuma’s produce feeds households nationwide. After the notorious summer heat, the temperature drops just enough to create the country’s longest growing season. Yuma County is the winter lettuce capital of the world, supplying a whopping 90% of the nation’s leafy vegetables between November and March.
All in all, the area produces more than 175 different crops and seeds. Something interesting is always growing in the 230,000 acres of agricultural land. Much of the area is dedicated to lettuce, a top crop according to the Arizona Farm Bureau. Up to 50,000 acres each of head lettuce and romaine are cultivated each year, comprising a large portion of the half billion dollar revenue generated by lettuce in 2011. According to 2008–2009 agricultural statistics, the Yuma area also grows about 12,000 acres of broccoli, 3,500 acres of cauliflower, 6,800 acres of spinach and 3,000 acres of other vegetables. Orchards and vast melon patches stretch across the landscape. Not only is Yuma County Arizona’s top producer of lemons, tangelos, and tangerines, it is also tops for watermelon and cantaloupe cultivation.
Agriculture is Yuma County's number one industry, and accounts for over a third of Arizona's total agricultural revenue. Approximately 45,000 workers harvest the fields and work in the nine salad plants that produce bagged salad mixes. During peak production months, each of those plants processes more than two million pounds of lettuce each day!
Dates and Wheat
The Yuma area grows more Medjool dates than anywhere else in the world. Native to the middle-east, Medjool offshoots appeared in Nevada in 1927. They were transplanted in California and later in the Bard Valley near Yuma, where the warm weather and soil were ideal for producing dates on a large scale. These plump, premium-quality fruits are not grown in winter, but are are harvested August through October and shipped around the world. Acres of date palms cover the town of Dateland, 65 miles east of Yuma. Date milkshakes are a local favorite!
Yuma County also produces approximately 40,000 acres of wheat, 95% of which is desert durum. Much of this wheat is exported to Italy to be made into premium pasta! Yuma also produces kosher wheat used in matzoh meal by Orthodox Jews. To be kosher, wheat cannot receive moisture immediately before harvest. Yuma’s dry climate is a natural asset to this type of production. Of course, this wheat must meet a number of stringent requirements to achieve a kosher designation. This product takes extra care to produce, but Yuma growers are happy to create an excellent product. Kosher wheat fields are expanding.
Yuma County also breeds about 125,000 head of cattle.
The Colorado River makes Yuma's agriculture possible. Centuries of silt deposited in the Yuma Valley by the Colorado River have created some of the world's most fertile soil. The Colorado supplies 100% of the thousands of acre-feet of water required for agriculture. Yuma's irrigation network one of the most efficient in the world. To ensure optimum delivery, fields are laser leveled and graded using GPS technology.
Since the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built the first dam on the Colorado River at Yuma Crossing, Yuma has been the site of several major water projects. The same year Arizona became a state, the Bureau built the Yuma Siphon, a huge tunnel under the riverbed that delivers water to irrigation systems. Yuma is also home to the largest desalting plant in the country. Built in 1992, this Bureau of Reclamation facility, when operational, purifies water and restores it to the Colorado River for delivery to Mexico.
The continued success of this multi-billion dollar industry depends on its ability to meet a host of challenges. Water shortages, crop diseases, and damage from pests are only a few of the dangers that must be met head on. The University Arizona's Agricultural Research Center in Yuma develops solutions to present and future difficulties on test fields stretching across Yuma and the Imperial Valley.