By Julie Murphree & Justen Ollendick, Arizona Farm Bureau: He’s known hard times; he’s known good times and through it all Yuma farmer Art Allen is always asking himself how he must innovate; what’s up next. He’s also asked himself, “Who out there loves to farm as much as me?” He also says, “You have to love agriculture to do agriculture. You can’t just do agriculture because your family is doing it.” And since Art wanted farming to continue in his family he knew he might have to draw others from outside the family into a business opportunity. His story, then, is one of persistence and thinking outside-of-the-box.

An interview with Art Allen – Yuma County, Arizona

Part of an ongoing series about Arizona Agriculture’s Farming and Ranching families.

Tell us about your farming operation: Actually, I don’t really do much with the farm anymore, I’ve gotten to the age where I have been lucky enough to find two young men to do all of it for me. One is my son-in-law, Kent, and the other is John Boelts, operated under Desert Premium Farms here in Yuma County [Arizona Farm Bureau profiled the Boelts family recently in “Meet Arizona Agriculture’s Boelts Family"]. Five to six years ago I wanted to start to get these two into the farming business, with perpetuating the next generation of farmers in mind.

Art Allen, in the green shirt without a hard hat, joined the Yuma County Farm Bureau in breaking ground on their new office building that was recently completed. Allen is a big advocate of volunteer leadership and believes the next generation, the millennials, need to step. As the saying goes, "The world is run by those who show up."

Why did you choose to go into agriculture? Well, I don’t know that I chose it more than the love that I had for it was the reason why. Maybe it chose me; maybe it chose my family members before me, and hopefully my family members after me. That’s the real challenge, perpetuating the family farm. Even though our family farm is corporate, and it is much larger than anything we had ever imagined. Growing up with forty acres, and now a few thousand is a big change.

What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming? We started way back when I was a child with the ol’ Johnny Popper series tractors [The first crawl-type tractor manufactured by John Deere from 1949 to 1952 derived from the conventional, rubber wheeled "M" row crop tractor, and utilized John Deere's two-cylinder gasoline engine sometimes referred to as a "Johnny Popper" because of its distinctive sound] with about 40 to 50 horsepower back in Idaho, and then moved here to Arizona where we were farm laborers. I lived in a labor camp called Goodyear Farms where my dad was the foreman. There were four of us boys, and mom and dad’s goal was that we all went to college. So, we all went to college and graduated. We couldn’t afford to go to the land-grant university, so instead we went to ASU and majored in agribusiness. After that, I went to work for Farm Credit Services where I was an Agricultural Banker. Then came along the opportunity to farm, where I started to farm in the Salt River valley.

My wife, Peggy's, family farming legacy dates back to 1907, when they got their start here in Arizona. The Accomazzo and Kruse families began farming even prior to statehood. They were vegetable farmer’s years ago, and now today, we are back into the farming of vegetables…that I thought I would never be in. Throughout that time I’ve see a transition from no-cab tractors to cabbed tractors to tractors that can run themselves. Basically you punch a button and make the turns, it does everything else. It has allowed us here in Yuma County, because we are short on ground, to produce the winter crop that we do. It allows us to use more and more of the ground to produce what we need. Each row that we can save by GPS means another row of crops that we can plant. It’s the net acres that we look for, and the technology that we use to get there. It is phenomenal from when we used to gauge based on looking at a mountain top and drive straight as you could and then go from there, where now we set the computer and it does that for us! You can plant with GPS, furrow with it, and harvest with it, level your fields, it’s just awesome!

Julie added: It sounds like you’ve grown just about everything, but you’ve really gotten into the veggies…Art said: Well, I haven’t grown everything and I really don’t know that much about vegetables. The two young men that I talked about earlier, Kent [Inglett] and John [Boelts], only went to college for a little bit. They didn’t finish college. Instead, they went to work for produce companies and they learned the business.

I looked at that and thought, okay, I want the family farm to continue. I am not necessarily a vegetable farmer; I am a farmer. But I knew that if we needed to go further than my generation, I had to innovate into something that I wasn’t comfortable with. But they work, they know the business and they know produce. So, I let them do the vegetables.

Will anyone in your family - younger generation - pursue farming? Oh I hope so, but you know, you have to love agriculture to do agriculture. You can’t just do agriculture because your family is doing it. If there isn’t a family member that wants to do it, then do what I have done and take people from outside your family and bring them in and make them part of the family. John [Boelts] isn’t my family, but he loves agriculture. And if you don’t have that, then you don’t have a farm; you just have a business. If you want to just have a business, then go do widgets. You cannot do farming without loving it because it’s just too hard.

That’s my philosophy.

Would you ever consider changing your business model? Well yeah! We’ve modified and modified and modified. Coming from just doing cotton, alfalfa, and grain to doing produce is a modification and it may even morph into something else. If you don’t integrate into the system further and further and further, then you’re going to get left behind. Even though this company is just 4 to 5 years old now, as an entity if you don’t move with the times you are going to get lost.

What are your community activities? Art laughing…Church, Farm Bureau, coached sports on a non-professional basis you know. I coached baseball, love baseball. I love football but was never big or fast enough to do that though. I never started on a team, because if you’re not big enough or fast enough you won’t be able to do it. I don’t care what sport it is or what you do, it’s all desire. If you don’t have the desire, then don’t do it.

I don’t care if you want to be a doctor, neurosurgeon, or a chemist, we need all of those people. But if you don’t love it then by golly get out of it!

What is one fact/achievement nobody knows about you? I don’t have any. I was in the Air Force and did my four years during Vietnam. I was a crew chief on a jet aircraft. Four years was just enough for me. That’s about it.

What do you think you do really well? I am a communicator…that’s the term we decided to use in place of his wording J…and I can use stories to be a communicator. I use past experiences and try to make them humorous to use myself as an example what not to do. Believe me, if you’re in this business and haven’t made any mistakes, then you’re really not in this business. There’s a lot of mistakes you’re going to make and it’s all about how you get back up after you’ve had those experiences.

For example, in the 1980s I went totally broke farming. I went to work for Circle K for minimum wage, at night, to feed my family. Then I started over. At that time, we weren’t diversified like we are today. We didn’t have all of the types of crops that we do now to be able to produce and grow a variety of agriculture products.

It’s very embarrassing to go broke. But if you have the spirit, you have the will to get up from anything. If you quit, that’s your choice. But if you decide that you’re not going to quit, and start again, you have to first forgive yourself for failing…that’s the hardest part to do. But if you’ve failed enough times like I have, you’ll always get up because there is always something else to do.

Why are you a farm bureau member? You know, Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization and things that happen on the family farm and family industry affects everything that we do. If we don’t have our voice in our state legislature, city and national government, then we don’t have that voice and we are dead in the water. We can’t change anything unless we, the grassroots people, go to those officials and tell them what is really happening out there as compared to what you see in the national media. That’s why you join Farm Bureau.

How will the next generation of farmers have to operate? Well. There is one thing I look at all the time when I am reading, there are more and more and more people being born in the world, and there are less and less and less places in the world to grow food, and products that we need.

In the long run if we can keep our government out of our business to an extent, then I can’t see why agriculture wouldn’t be one of the leading businesses out there for all of the world. And I am not talking about our local economy, but the world. It’s not oil. Yeah, we do need oil and all of that to help produce what farmers produce, but if people aren’t eating, then what do we need oil for? Feeding the growing population is like a wildfire, and it’s going to continue to grow, probably across this world. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. And now I just keep blabbing so now I need to stop.

Editor’s note: Art Allen was a crucial part of preventing local politicians from using the Yuma Crossing Heritage Area issue for political gain. Excerpted from a brochure produced by Yuma County Farm Bureau, “The Yuma County Farm Bureau organized the community to pass local legislation prohibiting local governments from using the Yuma Crossing Heritage Area designation to restrict the property rights of local land owners. Farm Bureau worked with federal legislators amending the federal law to reduce the expanded boundaries of the Heritage Area. The highlight was having the law signed by President Bush.”

Without Art’s active involvement in this issue, the entire effort would have been that much more challenging. Leadership like Art’s serves as a valuable example of what our volunteer farmer and rancher leaders do on behalf of the industry on a regular basis. They are leaders that learn and apply grassroots-level advocating, working both sides of the political aisle to make sure political leaders understand our issues.