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Arizona Experience Store

Yuma County: America’s Winter Vegetable Capital

Watch the video to follow Yuma’s growing season from irrigation to harvest. Watch how test fields at the Yuma Agricultural Experiment Center are helping Yuma farmers produce more with less.

Winter Produce

Yuma is a leading producer of winter broccoli.

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

Dates ripening on a palm.

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.

Water Use

This commemorative archway was erected at Main and First streets in Yuma in 1909 to mark the opening of the Laguna Dam, the first dam to be built on the Colorado River.

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.

New Directions

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. 

Information from Yuma Visitors Bureau and the Arizona Farm Bureau.

Yuma Agriculture at a Glance
  • #1 in the state and #3 in the nation for vegetable production
  • Source of 90 percent of the nation’s leafy vegetables from November–March
  • The world’s top producer of gourmet Medjool dates
  • A top exporter of wheat to Italy (for premium pasta)
  • Arizona’s top producer of lemons, tangelos, tangerines, watermelon and cantaloupe
  • Producer of more than 175 different crops and seeds

Agritourism

Farm dinner

Yuma’s green winter fields yield fresh opportunities for agritourism. Tour public gardens, pick your own fruit, or take a cooking class to learn how to turn local ingredients into a culinary masterpiece. One popular option is the Field to Feast tour, a cooperative effort between two of Yuma’s research institutions. After receiving an ingredient list, participants harvest fresh produce at the University of Arizona research farm and deliver it to culinary students from Arizona Western College, where they will whip up a delicious farm to table lunch for all to enjoy. This option is so successful that the Yuma Visitors Bureau is planning an “Agri-U” educational program including seminars, field trips, culinary classes and opportunities to meet local growers.

Yuma Lettuce Days, the county's signature festival, marks the end of the growing season with a bountiful harvest for all! Designated the Best Special Event Urban at the Arizona Governor’s Conference, the Yuma Lettuce Days celebration in mid March offers the best of the region’s produce. Gourmands will relish the delectable creations by local restaurants and the cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs. But even non-foodies will delight in the agriculture-inspired art show, live entertainment, vegetable carving contest, and games for the whole family.