There are 1,587 miles between my home and Yuma, Arizona. It’s far enough away to seem like a different world and in some ways it is.
Recently, I visited the Yuma area with the American Farm Bureau. I and other state Farm Bureau presidents toured farms and the border to see for ourselves what southern farmers are experiencing.
This area grows up to 90% of the winter-consumed salad greens for the U.S. It is too hot to grow these crops in the summertime, but from Thanksgiving to Easter the area thrives in lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley and more.
These crops take an immense amount of labor to water, weed, thin and harvest. It takes a lot of people to care for these crops and an enormous amount of coordination to move the fresh produce from the field to store shelves in a very small window of time. Automation has not been able to replace the quality assurance of individuals looking at each piece before going on the truck. Manual laborers are extremely important to these farms.
During this visit, I had the opportunity to see the border wall west of Yuma as well as the port of entry in San Luis. I was conflicted with what we saw. There is a humanitarian crisis with illegal crossings and drug trafficking, but there is also a huge economic value of trade, labor and culture at our border.
We toured farms along the border and heard firsthand of children and families being dropped into the U.S. along the wall and the strain that has on the local communities. The feelings of sadness and anger clearly came through as we listened to these stories and saw footprints of illegal crossings the night before.
However, up to 15,000 people cross legally every day into the U.S. to work every day and then return home in the evening through the San Luis port. It’s impressive to have such a resource as this to handle the labor-intensive crops and grow food in the U.S. to the standards we expect. For many reasons, we need a secure border and an immigration system that works.
As we traveled back through Yuma, we learned about Arizona’s water projects and their ability to move water to people and crops. We learned how they continue to produce more crops and more calories with less water.
The western U.S. has been in a severe drought over the last number of years. Farmers may leave acres of land fallow because of the drought, and they maximize every drop of water to harvest bigger yields on the remaining acres.
Understanding water rights and what farmers pay for water in Arizona seems a bit foreign to a Wisconsin farmer. But there are many similarities between what we do.
As we toured farms, we learned about the sanitation procedures and processes put in place to protect us as consumers. These protocols are put in place from field to store shelf. These processes are no different than what we do in Wisconsin with our cranberries, cherries, potatoes, beef, dairy and other staple commodities.
Farmers across this country have similar values of producing high-quality products that we would feed our own families. We work hard to protect the finite resource of water in the communities in which we live. Many of us have experienced labor shortages. No matter the location, most farms and agribusinesses have many of the same challenges.
There are many challenges that we as farmers cannot control. Regardless of your corner of the country, Farm Bureau is here to help amplify the farmer’s voice and to carry their messages to Washington, D.C.
As one farmer along the border stated, “There is so much going on here; we just want to farm.” That sentiment rings true for all farmers across the country.
Kevin Krentz was elected to the WFBF Board of Directors in 2012 to represent District 5, which includes Adams, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Juneau, Marquette, Waushara and Winnebago counties. In December of 2020, Kevin was elected as President of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. Kevin and his family own a dairy farm in Berlin. He started his farming career when he purchased his father’s 60 cows in 1994. He grew the farm to 600 cows and 1,300 acres of crops.