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Sinema talks water, immigration during Yuma farm tour

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Courtesy Sen. Krysten Sinema
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Sen. Krysten Sinema, (D-Arizona), listens to Kristen Smith, of JV Farms, during Monday's roundtable discussion

Yuma, Arizona (KAWC) - US Senator Kyrsten Sinema returned to Yuma Monday to get farmers’ input on the new farm bill.

Every five years, Congress passes legislation that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy, commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill”.

Senator Sinema says the national importance of locally grown winter vegetables makes Yuma agriculture a top priority for her, and she values local ag leaders’ opinions.

So Monday, she toured JV Farms and got a first-hand look at how Yuma provides America with its winter vegetables, as well as with the crops that feed the country’s livestock.

“These guys are the ones working on the ground every day to ensure that we’re providing the leafy green vegetables to the entire country every winter,” Sinema told KAWC.

But those crops need both water and workers to grow...and both are in increasingly short supply.

The Senator tells us she’s making progress on water...

“I launched our water advisory council this summer. We’ve already had several meetings. We have great representation from the Yuma agriculture community, and we’re working to address our needs during this time of historic drought.”

There is more to do, including deciding how to spend the latest federal investment in solving the water crisis.

“Right now I’m working with Yuma farmers to ensure we’re appropriately planning and submitting requests for how to utilize this most recent round of $4 billion.”

Yuma’s ag community is ahead of the curve on water conservation.

A coalition of local farmers has already submitted a plan to the Bureau of Reclamation that promises to save millions of acre feet of water while maintaining crop production levels.

Sinema’s advisory committee will work with Reclamation in the new year to begin considering similar proposals.

But water’s not the only resource problem facing Yuma farmers.

They also continue to struggle to get enough workers across the border to harvest and process crops.

Sinema believes the new Farm Bill will help.

“I’m working hard with my colleagues in the Senate to modify the Farm Worker Bill, so that we can increase the number of farm workers we bring into the country legally, that we ensure we have workers year-round.”

Still, the Senator admits that’s only half of southern Arizona’s immigration problem.

“We’re working on immigration in two components. First, we need to bring in the workers we need to do this important work. And second, we need to stop the flow of unauthorized folks who are coming her outside the legal system.”

Sinema says the multi-million-dollar expansion of the San Luis Port of Entry promises to make quicker and easier for farm workers to get to their jobs every day.

“And that’s going to be a big part of the work we do here in Yuma, to ensure that we have a bigger processing center that’s more modern that can allow farm workers and others who come across the border on a daily basis to work, to allow them to do that in a more orderly and rapid process.”

The Senator notes, Yuma farmers are also pursuing solutions on their own.

She says she’s impressed by the innovation she saw during her tour.

“Yuma really is the home for the greatest technological advances in agriculture in the entire world, from using drones to more effectively spray pesticides at a safer and lower level, and more precise level, to using laser technology to eliminate weeds during the growing season, Yuma really is at the forefront of advancing technology. They’re using artificial intelligence to gather data on how to more effectively and efficiently farm.”

The Senator says, in the process, Yuma ag is setting the standard.

”Now this is really important because it helps us maximize farming with less water. It helps us farm with less labor, because of course we have a massive labor shortage here in Yuma County, and it ensures that we’re reducing costs and becoming more efficient and effective.”

Lisa Sturgis’ return to KAWC brings her journalistic career full circle. Uncle Bob Hardy gave Lisa her first exposures to reporting back in the 1980s. She went on to spend more than three decades in TV news before making the decision to come home to NPR.