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Desert agriculture gets new leadership

Tanya Hodges will take directorship of Yuma center on May 27.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

May 2, 2024

3 Min Read
Tanya Hodges
Tanya Hodges, new director of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, inspects a field of wheat.YCEDA

Agriculture as an industry gets the “We’re No. 1” banner in Yuma, an annual $4 billion economic boon warmed by over 300 days of sunshine per year and watered by the Colorado River.

Home to more than 175 different crops, the Sunniest City in the World allows farmers to raise two and sometimes three rotations on the same plot of land per year over the region’s 230,000 acres of farmland.

A goodly percentage of those acres are included in research projects under the auspices of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, a research facility approaching its First Decade anniversary with a new driver steering the administrative plow as founding executive director Paul Brierley has moved into the directorship of the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

In the bullpen and ready to be called up to lead (effective May 27) is Yuma native Tanya Hodges, the face of the University of Arizona in Yuma, La Paz, and Imperial Counties, anxious to guide efforts to provide fast-track solutions to high-priority issues within the desert agricultural industry.

“All of agriculture is near and dear to me and Yuma County’s precision ag is right up front and center,” she says. “This is the mecca for high value specialty crops in the desert and when you add in precision agriculture and all the exciting high technologies that are being developed between Yuma and the Salinas Valley, it’s exciting --- who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?”

With Yuma County family roots that extend over six generations, the Hodges family has a deep connection to farming. “I grew up north of Dateland where my dad was a farmer.  I know the important role desert agriculture plays in feeding the United States.”

More than 90% of wintertime leafy greens in north America are farmed in the Yuma area (75 kinds of crops) while summertime crops include dates, watermelons, cantaloupes, hay, alfalfa, ad Durum and hard red wheat.

An integral part

According to the folks at Experience Yuma: “Agriculture is more than just a booming industry, it’s an intrinsic part of the fabric of Yuma since the early 1900s”.

And the Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture has played an integral part for the last decade, the brainchild of Shane Burgess, Vice President for the University of Arizona Division of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences.

“YCEDA grew from an innovative idea and some entrepreneurial calculated risks to an internationally respected academic-private leader supporting those feeding our world through a variety of research and development efforts,” Burgess says.

“YCEDA’s initial ten years has more than fulfilled its promise because it is a model public-private partnership and I am thrilled Dr. Hodges will lead it into its second decade,” he says.  “As an innovative leader in both academics and agriculture, she has embraced the responsibility for continuing YCEDA’s exemplary trajectory for worldwide impact.”

“I have two initial things I want to do,” says Hodges, a veteran of academia as well as years in the specialty crop industry. “Review where we’ve been and decide where we need to go to keep moving forward. I want to meet with all the Yuma growers, ride around with them in their trucks and pick their brains about what they perceive as priorities, then summarize those wants and needs and start building solutions to accomplish them.”

Lots of complimentary phrases have been used to describe the new leader, one term being “high energy,” and she is that.  “I’m a communicator,” she says. “I’m approachable, and would rather hash problems out to understand everybody’s perspectives, so  I’m hopeful we can have the hard discussions so we can work together.

“There’s a difference between cooperation and collaboration, right? Cooperation means we’re working side-by-side, but we might be doing our own thing. Collaboration involves working together towards a common goal and  collaboration can move mountains. So let’s put out any existing fires and build towards what we want desert agriculture to look like in the future.”

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