By Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers: A Chinese proverb suggests you cannot step into the same river twice, and so it is with Arizona agriculture – it is a changing industry and the challenge is how to manage it for a sustainable future.

It may surprise some, but the economic impact of Arizona agriculture continues to increase, i.e. from $6.6 billion in 2000, $9.2 billion in 2004 and today at $12.4 billion for food, fiber and ornamentals. Diversification, more intensive operations, vertical integration and technology advances have consistently propelled this upward movement.

Specialization, increased mechanization, and an embrace of sophisticated scientific tools have paved the way for increased productivity, in both crop and livestock production, and this will continue. There will be further growth potential for Arizona agriculture in areas such as biotechnology and alternative energy production.

Arizona farmers and ranchers have learned to compete in a global market-oriented economy where producers make production and marketing decisions based on non-trade distorting market signals. Appropriate and managed government support is needed to assure a level playing field in this marketplace and one reason why we need to get a new Farm Bill.

Despite mechanization there will be a continued need for a legal and reliable labor supply for agriculture. However one views it, the reality is we either import our labor or we will export our food production. It is that simple.

Arizona agriculture responds to economic signals and is a significant contributor to the state’s economic vitality. Less recognized, yet equally significant is the role in managing natural resources, and making our space more livable. Just as one example, consider the flexibility agriculture adds to the state when it continues to manage a water resource that might be called upon in some emergency. If agriculture were to disappear so would this flexibility for urban areas. Today’s water management issues are at the forefront of Farm Bureau’s grassroots policy efforts and one reason why as an organization we’re meeting on this issue.

Conservation of natural resources in an economic framework while enhancing the environment is a valuable contribution to the state. These contributions have yet to be properly considered and valued by the citizens of this state. This discussion must go forth in Arizona for agriculture to be sustainable – otherwise urbanization of our lands rolls on, and in the southwest this always occurs where the water is or where it can be transported.

Lastly, a lack of commitment to a sustainable agriculture needs to be recognized as a direct threat to our security. Arizona agriculture is part of a very efficient system that produces the safest and most diversified food supply at the lowest price for any developed society in the world. Our food production is taken for granted by the consumer. Without some attention and thought this security will be outsourced.

For Arizona agriculture to be sustainable, our farmers, ranchers, dairy and nursery operations must continue to do what they do best as efficient producers. But they also need the public’s recognition, understanding and assistance as to trade, labor reform and the non-economic contributions made by agriculture to the state.

Editor's Note: Arizona Farm Bureau is working with county leadership to address current water issues. As the organization reviews its water policy, Farm Bureau agriculture leadership is encouraged to help evaluate current policy and assess what needs to be added, changed or even eliminated. During November's Annual Meeting the delegate body of Arizona agriculture leaders will vote on new policy including updated water policy if needed. 

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