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Urban growth could push Arizona farmers to Mexico

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  • Steven L. Robinson
    Urban growth could push Arizona farmers to Mexico Dennis Mitchell Cronkite News Service Feb. 17, 2007 12:00 AM Urban growth into Arizona s farmland will push
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 16, 2007
      Urban growth could push Arizona farmers to Mexico

      Dennis Mitchell
      Cronkite News Service
      Feb. 17, 2007 12:00 AM

      Urban growth into Arizona's farmland will push farmers to take part of the
      state's $6.3 billion-a-year agriculture industry into Mexico, the state's
      agriculture director said.

      "The growers are going to go to Mexico. They're looking there now," Donald
      Butler, director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, said Thursday in
      an interview. "You keep pushing and pretty soon you're going to have a
      situation like you do with oil. It's going to be imported," Butler said.
      "The growers here are going to go to Mexico and produce the crops and send
      them back up."

      Butler said he doesn't see a balance developing between agriculture and the
      population influx that has made Arizona the fastest-growing state in the
      nation. advertisement

      "They're going to come, and they have to be housed someplace, whether it's
      prime farmland or not," he said. "I think agriculture is going to get the
      short end."

      Butler said that's because the land is more valuable to a developer than to
      the farmer.

      Arizona lost 37 percent of its farmland between 1950 and 2000 to either
      residential, industrial or business uses, according to a 2003 report from
      Northern Arizona University's Center for Sustainable Environments.

      Butler said he remembers when Arizona had 500,000 to 600,000 acres of
      cotton. Last year, it was around 220,000 acres, and he said he has heard
      it's now around 180,000 acres.

      Asked what the state could do to keep agriculture strong in the long run,
      Butler said, "I guess the easy answer would be to stop putting concrete down
      on good farmland."

      Butler said his department needs to do a better job of educating people
      about what agriculture adds to Arizona.

      "People don't realize the effort, the capital and everything that goes into
      agriculture," he said. "It's much easier to go to Safeway or Bashas' or the

      The state is the nation's second-largest producer of head and leaf lettuce,
      spinach, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, broccoli and cauliflower.

      Butler said the move of farms out of the country could make it more
      difficult to keep food safe.

      He also pointed out that any food-borne illness outbreak would be more
      difficult to trace in imported food.

      "People say, 'is it safe food?' They can do things in Mexico that we can't
      do here in pesticides and in other areas." Butler said.

      Produce distributors are working with Mexican growers to establish safety
      measures for their crops, he said, adding that such corporations as Wal-Mart
      are demanding a specific level of safety in the food that they purchase.

      Butler said Sonora is the most advanced state in Mexico in terms of
      livestock and crops.

      "It's a lot of money, and they take care of it," he said.

      Butler added, however, that the 1,500 trucks passing through the port of
      Nogales each day carry produce from as far away as Guatemala and Chile.

      While agriculture inspectors monitor what enters Arizona, it's impossible to
      inspect every truck and every cargo container, he said.

      He said another border issue affecting Arizona growers is the availability
      of labor to work in the fields.

      Butler said that in some Yuma lettuce fields, for example, only 20 workers
      are thinning the fields when 60 workers are needed for the job.

      Butler said he favors a program to bring in field workers from Mexico
      "because you don't have the workforce in the United States that's willing to
      do it."


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