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Our Opinion: Ag slump hurts all

April 21, 2001

A bad year in the Imperial Valley in agricultural means a bad year in the Imperial Valley in general.

The county ag report released last week showed that the county's agricultural values again dipped below $1 billion for a year, in this case for 2000, the latest year on record.

Farmers have been complaining about bad markets for a few years and the numbers again point to their complaints being more than valid. Yes, we are still one of the top 10 to 12 ag counties in the state and one of the top 20 ag counties in the nation, but that doesn't mean things are rosy here. And when the agricultural economy is hurting in Imperial County, the pain reverberates throughout the county. Related industries suffer, and when ag and its support industries are bleeding, it affects the local economy all the way from irrigation supply companies to toy stores.

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Imperial Valley farmers cite the North American Free Trade Agreement, stringent regulations, high labor and fuel costs and other factors as combining with low market prices for their tough ag times in recent years. Some of those things are not going to get better, so we have to hope for better prices and new products for our crops and other commodities.

A beef-processing plant being built in Brawley and expected to open in the fall should provide tremendous help to a still relatively strong beef industry in the Imperial Valley (but God help us if we get hit by any of the cattle diseases lurking about around the world.) Farm products that go to feed cattle should see an upswing after the beef plant opens, and the swing should go even higher if dairies relocate to the Valley, as we keep hearing at least one will.

There are other exciting prospects in the Valley, including the possibility of sugar cane being grown in the Valley to a large degree and a return of more citrus groves.

Most of our local farmers are a steadfast lot. They come from good stock, from people who went though a lot of hell to build farms here. Yet things keep getting tougher, and our farmers are again going to have to find new and better ways to survive and prosper.

We all depend on that happening.

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