Often, America’s farmer is depicted as somewhat old-fashioned and kind of out of touch with modern technology, especially information technology. While those working in the agriculture industry know this is a misconception, we still battle the perception. The technological innovations led by farmers and ranchers continue at a great pace. And our farmers know how to make things happen to make technology ubiquitous in the environment. This is Yuma farmer Mark Smith’s story and why Arizona Farm Bureau named him the 2022 Arizona Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year.  

Mark Smith is President of Smith Farms Company of Yuma, Inc., a multi-generation family farming operation specializing in the production of conventional and organic winter vegetables. His big lift in the last year was improving the Yuma area’s broadband. 

In addition to his leadership on water issues, Mark’s most recent efforts have focused on the installation of fiber-optic infrastructure to bring broadband internet service to the rural and agricultural areas of Yuma County. His efforts have provided a model for other rural/agricultural areas to forge a similar path and enable a technological future for agricultural production. Throughout 2017 and 2018 Mark led the effort to put political pressure on these companies to step up and invest to deliver the needed services to Yuma County. He made it not just about his operation and agriculture, but all Yuma County – including underserved citizens, education, healthcare, government, military, business and industry.

For the next three years, through 2021 and into 2022, Mark worked tirelessly with the Yuma County Broadband Task Force and the Arizona Commerce Authority to convince the Yuma County Board of Supervisors that with agriculture being such a large part of their economy and tax base, they should invest in a middle mile fiber network throughout Yuma County so that service providers in rural areas would have access to the same level of connectivity as more urban areas. 

His dogged efforts resulted in the design of a redundant fiber ring network that links urban and rural areas of Yuma County, with no area of the county too far away from future-proof fiber connectivity that will be available on an equal-access basis to all providers. With $20.7 million from Yuma County and two $10 million grants from the Arizona Commerce Authority, construction is underway on the County-owned middle-mile fiber network that will attract service providers to make Yuma County as connected as anyplace on the planet.