In the early 1990s, Arizona crop seed industry leaders gathered in the Grand Canyon State to tackle a front-burner issue as some commercial farm seed sales were charged a State of Arizona state sales tax while others were not.
Seed leaders hired a lobbyist and worked in unison with state lawmakers to generate legislation to eliminate state sales taxes on farm seeds. This issue and its solution led Arizona seed companies and employees (seedsmen) to form the Seed Trade Association of Arizona (STAA) in 1992.
STAA became the 16th member state of the Southern Seed Association.
This May, about 100 members of the Arizona seed industry, including spouses, gathered at Tucson to commemorate the seed group’s silver anniversary – 25 years of service as pro-seed advocates for the state’s $17.2 billion agricultural industry.
The event included a gala celebration, and learning about the latest issues important to Grand Canyon State agriculture and seedsmen.
“Wow, 25 years and growing strong,” said smiling STAA President Justin Lewis of Santa Maria Seed at Yuma during his opening remarks. “I’m very proud to be a part of this 25th anniversary of such a great organization of colleagues.”
Seeds grow agriculture
John Caravetta, associate director with the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA), touted the importance of the seed industry to the state’s agriculture.
“Everything you eat, even the clothes you wear, all begin with a seed. Agriculture would not exist without seed,” the ADA leader said.
Seed is the No. 1 commodity that’s certified for export from Arizona, he noted, adding that Arizona seed companies today export 130 types of seeds to 59 countries around the globe.
Caravetta noted the value of Arizona agriculture has grown three fold in the last 15 years to more than $17 billion. The value of Arizona farm exports totals $4.2 billion with 10,000-plus jobs in the Grand Canyon State tied to those exports.
“Trade continues to increase from our state and we see agriculture continue to diversify,” he said. “It’s not only a challenge for us but a significant opportunity for the state.”
Threats from plant pests are a major concern in Arizona, especially given the volume of trade domestically and internationally that moves in and out of the state.
According to Caravetta, ADA plant services division staff conducted more than 10,000 inspections of high-risk loads of commodities last year with a pest interception rate of about 23 percent. Actionable pests totaled a 14 percent interception rate which Caravetta called “exceptionally too high.”
“The issue is about keeping such issues from advancing to a production agriculture issue,” he said. “We’re confident that we can continue to intercept and resolve these problems before they become bigger issues for us in the future.”
To date, Caravetta says Arizona has no confirmations of the major citrus disease Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening.
“Citrus greening would be a death knell for our citrus industry,” the ADA leader said.
In 2016, the Asian citrus psyllid pest which vectors the bacteria which can cause HLB, was detected across the entire state. A statewide quarantine currently exists for the pest, and ADA has doubled the sampling of leaf tissue and psyllids.
Mexico farm exports to U.S.
Farm trade between Mexico and the U.S. was discussed by Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), based at Nogales in Southern Arizona. The organization represents companies involved in the farm import-export business, primarily imports of Mexican produce into the U.S.
Jungmeyer said the first produce exported from Mexico to the U.S. dates back to 1905 via a rail car carrying tomatoes, melons, and onions which crossed the Mexico-U.S. border at Nogales. Since then, imports have grown steadily, ranging from 6 to 8 percent growth in recent years for fruits and vegetables.
“Over the last 15 years, truck load equivalent shipments have increased from 183,000 truckloads in 2000 to a 444,000 truck-load equivalent in 2015 – a 250 percent increase,” Jungmeyer said.
He credits the large increase in part to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
Produce shipments once took three to eight hours to go through customs at the border crossing yet a new FAST lane at the port of entry processes shipments as quickly as 30 minutes, and can handle 1,300 to 1,500 trucks of fresh produce a day during the peak summer season.
The top Mexican produce items shipped through Nogales include: tomatoes – 19 percent; watermelon – 18 percent; cucumbers – 13 percent; squash – 12 percent; fresh grapes – 5 percent (19.4 million cartons projected this year), and others.
During the dinner gala, former STAA presidents shared seed and other agricultural issues during their respective terms in office. One leader discussed the ‘gray area’ of the state law that opened the door for taxing some farm seeds. Another highlighted the bill introduced in 1993 that waived the state tax on seed.
The leader said, “We built unity on the issue and came together as an industry. We had problems and we handled it.”
Five employees with Barkley Seed Incorporated at Yuma have served as STAA presidents. STAA’s first president was Duane Palmer who served two years, 1993 and 1994.