Newsletter Highlights:
  • Meet Your Local Conservationist: An Interview with Bobbi McDermott
  • Featured District: Pima NRCD & the Border Barrier Project
  • Conservation Corner: Five Principles of Soil Health
  • Conservation Education Spotlight: Yuma Conservation Garden "Where Desert Meets Community"
Conserve. Grow. Live.
September 2020 Newsletter
Meet Your Local Conservationist
An Interview with Bobbi McDermott
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Tucson after moving with my family from Wisconsin in 1957, and currently live in Yuma. I earned by B.S. in Agronomy from the University of Arizona in 1969 – I was the first woman in 10 years to have graduated from that program! I started my college career in Animal Sciences but was told I would never get into vet school because they did not want women. Sophomore year I was in the Soils Department but to graduate I would need to take three chemistry courses more than my male counterparts. My junior year found me in the Agronomy Department which welcomed me. I did not choose agriculture as much as it chose me. I was also selected for Alpha Zeta, an ag honorary professional society, but denied entry – again, I was still a woman. (It wasn’t until 1972 that Alpha Zeta granted women entry into the professional fraternity – click here to learn more.)  
How did you become involved in resource conservation?

While going to school I held several jobs to pay my way. I worked in food service; I spent a summer in the soil and water testing lab on campus; I worked as a student trainee with the Coronado National Forest for one summer; and finally, in my senior year, I was a field worker for the USDA Plant Materials Center in Tucson. When I graduated I was happy working outside and making $2.00 an hour, but my supervisor insisted I apply to the USDA Soil Conservation Service – what we all know now as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – for a Soil Conservationist position. I became a Soil Conservationist in September of 1969. Immediately after college I worked out of the Yuma Field Office (FO). After a year I transferred to the Phoenix FO, where I stayed for two years, and then returned to Yuma. (I saw the error of my ways!)  
After three years I was promoted to District Conservationist (DC) and moved to the Wellton FO. I am, proudly, the first woman to be promoted to DC in Agency history! I worked extensively with the Wellton-Mohawk Salinity Project from 1975 to 1987. In 1987, the Wellton FO was closed and combined with the Yuma FO. I suddenly became DC working with three counties, two states, and four Conservation Districts: Laguna, Yuma, and Wellton-Mohawk Valley in Arizona and Bard in California. After working for 38 years for the agency, 36 of them in “God’s Country” of Yuma, Imperial, and La Paz Counties, I retired. I have always had the support of my Conservation District Boards and the farmers I worked with. 
What kinds of conservation practice implementations have you helped with over the years?

I have worked with growers on soil and water conservation projects, including ditch lining, land leveling, irrigation system design, conservation cropping systems, soils, irrigation water management, crop residue use, and conservation tillage. It’s important to remember that the work by farmers is done voluntarily and using the farmer’s money. When we worked together, it was for practical and cost- efficient improvements to the resource base to maintain and improve it for future generations. In fact, 95% of the cropland is still locally owned and operated, with 5th and 6th generations taking over. I continue to utilize my knowledge to assist the community and individuals on soil, water, and other conservation matters when asked.   
How long have you been involved with NRCDs, and why did you get involved with NRCDs?

I have been involved with NRCDs for 50 years. Districts identify and prioritize local resource concerns and share with NRCS to work in partnership with the private landowners.  I am a District Supervisor on the Yuma NRCD board, and I am very vocal about local conservation issues. I care about local field office staffing and locally led conservation, planning, and practices. Yuma County agriculture is my favorite topic!  
What is your favorite thing about being involved with NRCDss?

The people involved with Districts and their dedication to continue to fight for programs and assistance that apply to the resource needs of their farmers. The sacrifice of individuals to become involved in what often seems like hopeless pursuits to address local needs and objectives. The “if it is to be, it is up to me” philosophy runs deep within Districts. 
What other conservation or agricultural activities/organizations are you involved in?

  • I was honored by being inducted into the AZ Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame in 2017. (Pictured) I continue to nominate Yuma County individuals from Yuma County who have made stellar contributions to the agricultural industry in different capacities. So far, both nominees were inducted. 
  • I am a regular contributor to the Yuma Sun newspaper, writing the column “Yuma Ag & You.” 
  • I attend many meetings on local and statewide agricultural issues to continue my knowledge and to write about for my column. When asked, I teach classes at Arizona Western College (where I previously taught a Soils Course for several years post-retirement). 
  • I am a Hospice of Yuma Bereavement team volunteer. 
  • I am on the AACD State Board and Cropland Chairman. 
  • I continue to speak to local church and civic groups about agricultural issues and Yuma County agriculture when asked. 
  • I do volunteer work as needed with Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association. 
  • I push Food Safety issues and how it is necessary for the public to support the Food Safety Industry by attending local seminars and meetings. 
  • I am a Member of Yuma Area Ag Council. 
  • I served on the Yuma County Planning and Zoning Commission. 
  • I was Treasurer of the Yuma Area Habitat Partnership Committee in association with the AZ Game and Fish Department. 
  • I was a participant and member of Arizona Heritage Fund Advisory Committee, selected by the AZ Game and Fish Commission. 
  • I am a member of the PM-10 Air Quality Committee and assisted in drafting Yuma County Best Management Practices. 
  • I am a member of the International Water and Boundary Commission (IBWC Advisory Committee-third 2-year term). 
  • I was the Secretary/Treasurer of Desert Bass Anglers, the largest Bass fishing club in Yuma since 1992. 
  • I am a “Step On” tour guide for agricultural tours. 
  • I am a past member of the Yuma County Cotton Wives, Yuma League of Women Voters, Hospice of Yuma Board of Directors – YRMC Fundraising Committee. 
Thank you, Bobbi McDermott!
Featured District
Pima NRCD & the Border Barrier Project
What happens on the border effects all Arizonans. Those who live on farms and ranches, whose Districts are located within a stone’s throw from the border, whose livestock and land are mutilated because of the illegal traffic that crosses from Mexico into Arizona, the question of a border barrier is no question at all, but a necessity. Because a large percentage of the land along the Arizona-Mexico border is rangeland for cattle and other grazing livestock, with farms and other land types too, it is only logical that the those whose livelihoods depend on this controversial stretch of land be heard.  

For over a decade, the Pima Natural Resource Conservation District (PNRCD) has been an active voice in this battle at the border. In April of this year, PNRCD drafted a letter of support to the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency supporting the planned Border Barrier Project, but with a few provisions, like requesting that the Districts and local producers be kept in the loop of project development. Who better to advise D.C. and construction contractors on what is needed on the ground than those living on the front lines? And although the PNRCD has not been the sole advocate for the decision to build an effective border barrier, PNRCD’s comments, resolutions, and Congressional out-reach have helped bring about a strong, positive outcome for border ranchers, farmers, and residents. Other NRCDs that have been largely involved in border barrier advocacy include: Willcox-San Simon, Hereford, Whitewater Draw, Santa Cruz, and Gila Bend.  

Jim Chilton, PNRCD Chairman, was contacted by Washington and asked to attend the 101st Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. It was there that Jim was given the opportunity to meet President Trump who, during his speech, asked Jim to come up on stage and give an impromptu talk about the current border crisis. While Jim may have been a little surprised, it was an amazing opportunity for the Arizona’ Conservation Districts to have a presence on a national stage and give all of Arizona’s border producers an opportunity to be heard through his words.  

As of early June 2020, Jim reported that a border fence will be constructed on the south side of District. Fisher Industries has been awarded a contract to build a 42-mile, 30-foot tall bollard-style fence along the international boundary from the eastern boundary of the Tohono O’Odham Reservation to Nogales, and then to the east of Nogales to Mount Washington. The fence, in conjunction with parallel roads and 24/7 patrolling, should dramatically decrease numbers of drug smugglers, criminals, sex traffickers, and undocumented persons traveling through District farms and ranches. However, the border along the Tohono O’Odham Reservation will continue to be a serious problem when illegal crossers enter the Reservation and then come into District areas. 

To learn more about the border wall project, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s website (click here) and read the waiver (click here) issued by Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf. 
Conservation Corner
Five Principles of Soil Health
While producers in Arizona may currently use efficient practices in growing crops or grazing livestock, certain practices aimed at improving soil health may actually make their production even more efficient and profitable by reducing costs of irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide use, tillage, etc. on farmlands, and by increasing animal production and reducing feeding costs on rangelands. According to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Heath Expert Jay Fuhrer, there are five principles of soil health. Our own AACD Technical Consultant, Dr. Lamar Smith, has analyzed and synthesized them for us here: 

Keeping soil covered to reduce water loss, reduce soil temperature, and reduce erosion hazard.

Water use efficiency on irrigated farmland can be improved by keeping as much plant cover and residue on the soil as possible. This reduces soil temperature and wind which reduces evaporation loss from the soil surface, a major source of water loss. On rangelands, also maintaining a good grass and litter cover reduces evaporation because it acts as a mulch on the soil surface. Reducing excessive cover of shrubs and trees can also increase water use efficiency by reducing the interception and transpiration losses of the woody plants and improving the distribution of litter and herbaceous cover over the soil surface.

Minimize soil disturbance by reducing tillage, moderate grazing, and proper application of pesticides and fertilizers.

Tillage of croplands can adversely affect soil structure and increase compaction, both of which reduce the infiltration of water into the soil and the ability of the soil to store water available to plant roots. Reducing tillage by “no till” planting or by rotating amount crops can help to maintain soil structure and reduce compaction. Excessive grazing on rangelands can also damage soil structure by reducing plant and litter cover or treading. Excessive use of pesticides, fertilizer, or herbicides can also disturb soil fauna and chemical properties.

Increase diversity of plant life forms and growth patterns.

Plants differ in their growth forms and patterns. For example, some are cool season plants, some are warm season; some have deep tap roots, some have shallower fibrous roots; some fix nitrogen; etc. Maintaining a diverse mixture of plant types and different growth patterns on rangeland contributes to the amount of forage, ground cover, and wildlife habitat produced and lengthens the period of nutritious forage availability, thus reducing supplemental feeding costs. On farmlands, rotating between row crops and cover crops, warm season and cool season crops, etc. can help to improve soil structure, reduce pest problems, and increase efficiency of fertilizer use.

Maintaining live plants to sustain soil organisms which contribute to soil health. Soil organisms such as bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects provide valuable functions in promoting good soil structure (i.e., water holding capacity), breaking down plant residues into organic matter, and conversion of soil chemicals into plant available nutrients. Many of these organisms depend on a year-round supply of living plant material to survive and function. Therefore, practices that maintain living plants on the soil to the extent possible will help to provide a healthy population of these organisms. 

Integrating livestock grazing to help retain nutrients in the soil and reduce fertilizer need.

Livestock grazing on rangelands is how these lands convert plants into high quality food for human consumption – this principle is a given for rangelands. On farmlands, the idea behind this principle is to use livestock to consume forage crops and/or crop residues on the land where it is produced rather than harvesting the crop or residue and taking it off the land to feed animals in confinement. Grazing the animals on the croplands will return the nutrients and organic matter to the soil, thereby reducing nutrient and organic matter loss to the farmland. This practice will not be feasible on some of Arizona’s croplands but may work in some cases.

Source material from NRCS (click here). By clicking on the individual links below, you can download pdf files for each Principle in their original source format: 
Conservation Education Spotlight
Yuma Conservation Garden
"Where Desert Meets Community"
The Yuma Conservation Garden (YCG) is a botanical garden and natural habitat of Sonoran Desert plants and wildlife with an interactive education center, full of trails and demonstration stations to teach visitors all about the natural habitat of the Sonoran Desert. It’s clear from the YCG’s mission statement that the Garden is committed to “environmental education encouraging responsible stewardship of our natural resources.” 

To accompany the interactive experience at the Garden, the YCG has created over 50 lesson plans – all available for free online through their website (click here) – for students in grades K-12 (although, these lesson plans can be educational for adults, too)! Lessons are designed to engage students in hands-on activities that teach to YGC’s mission. What’s useful about their lesson plans is that almost all activities can be adapted to fit any grade level, even though each lesson is mapped to specific grades on their website. YCG’s site also outlines which lesson’s contents most closely matches the “Arizona Articulated Science Standard” (most of the activities incorporate at least “Inquiry Strand One”), as well as other schooling concentrations (math, writing, reading, etc.). 

While COVID restricts large groups from congregating, engaging in outdoor activities is encouraged. Anyone can go onto YCG’s website, download one – or all! – of these engaging conservation lessons and head outside to a local park or your own backyard and find something fun and educational to do with your kids and families. Discover how limited our soil and water resources are; learn about air quality; understand the interdependence of animal life with their environment and the need to preserve and protect resources; identify producers and consumers in an aquatic food chain; or learn about plant and animal relationships of symbiosis, commensalisms, mutualism, and parasitism. The list goes on and on! 

Keep these valuable conservation education tools in mind the next time you’re looking to educate anyone in your local community about their desert environment and how conservation plays an important role in Arizona’s future.   
Arizona Association of Conservation Districts
About Us
In 1944, the Arizona Conservation Districts established the Arizona Association of Conservation Districts (AACD) as a means of support to help coordinate and fund conservation efforts across the state, and as a way to unify and represent District goals and interests. Since 1992, AACD has been a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with a Board of Directors comprised of one representative from each of Arizona’s 42 Conservation Districts. AACD accomplishes their directive to support the Districts by establishing partnerships with federal, state, tribal, and local entities, as well as non-governmental organizations. AACD takes a holistic, collaborative approach to the challenges producers and conservationists face today and seeks to bring different groups together to find common ground in conserving our valuable natural and agricultural resources. 

Please visit our website to learn more about AACD and the Districts, discover the important conservation work they do, and support them today!
Arizona Association
of Conservation Districts
7467 E. Broadway Blvd
Tucson, AZ 85710
Have a story you would like to share in our next newsletter?

Contact: Brooke Gladden
(520) 668-3348
"Conserving Agriculture and Natural Resources Since 1944"