By Cyndie Shearing
Stefanie Smallhouse, president of Arizona Farm Bureau, helps manage her family’s fifth-generation beef cow/calf operation, saguaro cactus greenhouses and mesquite lumber business.
The focus on conservation of land and natural resources that she brings to her current pursuits stems from her earlier career as a wildlife biologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Utah.
The family’s conservation efforts have garnered awards from the Arizona Society for Range Management and the National Association of Conservation Districts.
Like other agricultural leaders across the country, Smallhouse is currently grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of particular concern in Arizona was an initial decision to restrict necessary application services for agricultural guest workers at Mexican consulates and embassies, which could have impacted the supply chain for leafy greens and other fresh vegetables.
American Farm Bureau, Arizona Farm Bureau and other state Farm Bureaus, along with other agriculture groups, quickly reached out to government officials to press the case for reversal of the decision. This led to a March 26 announcement by the State Department to process additional H-2A workers, including new applicants, using interview waivers. This new development follows a Department of Homeland Security to treat agricultural laborers (with H-2A visas or in other programs) as essential, allowing them to cross from Mexico to the U.S. if they have documentation, despite the current U.S.-Mexico border closure.
“In Yuma County and Imperial County, where we produce 85% of the U.S. supply of leafy greens this time of year, we will still need 40,000 to 50,000 harvesters working each day in vegetable fields” harvesting crops including lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, Smallhouse said. “If we can’t get produce out of the field, then we can’t restock the grocer’s bins or your plate.”
Although the recent State Department announcement was welcomed by Arizona growers, the availability of ag labor in general remains a continuing concern for farmers across the country.
Cyndie Shearing is director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.