Yuma farmers prepare for harvest as they face challenges

Yuma farmers face the challenges of finding workers and extreme weather as they get ready to harvest their crops.
Published: Oct. 9, 2023 at 4:38 PM MST
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YUMA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — October’s a busy time of year for Arizona farmers, especially those down in Yuma, as they get ready to harvest their crops. Yuma is the third-largest supplier of vegetables in the nation. “All these valleys are turning green,” said John Boelts.

He owns and operates Desert Premium Farms. He has fields across Yuma County. In Dome Valley, he has a field of honeydew that will be ready for harvest in a couple of weeks. He started planting this field in August and said it’s been an eventful start to the growing season. “They survived the hurricane. They survived the 123-degree days,” he said.

When Hurricane Hilary swept through Yuma, he said a field in Gadsden that was further along did receive some damage. It’s part of the risk farmers undergo with severe weather.

It’s not just climate that’s a factor in a crop’s success, but water. Last year’s wet winter helped farmers, but Boelts said they’re always looking for ways to save water, like trying different irrigation methods. “We still have a long way to go and water conservation is a big part of what we do, making sure the crops only get the water they need when they need it,” he said.

Labor has also become a growing concern. Boelts said it’s hard to find enough hands to work the fields. In Yuma, the majority of the agriculture workforce are immigrants. Many cross the border from Mexico daily to work in the fields. “Most of the crops we’re harvesting here in Yuma, especially the big crops, you’re not gonna do any of that without people,” he said.

Despite these concerns, he said they’ll be ready to ship their crops across the U.S. and Canada when the time comes. “Fresh vegetable harvest will begin in three weeks from now. Most everything you see harvested in one day will be shipped out the next day,” he said.

Once the melons are shipped out, Boelts said the melon field will quickly be turned over and prepped for lettuce.

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