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Maricopa ag research center recognized for accomplishments
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — Large areas around Maricopa are dedicated to agriculture, a resource that has provided for the community since the 1930s.

The U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center has made multiple nationally recognized achievements within the past year. Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it has been in place since 2006 as an addition to the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Agricultural Center to “develop environmentally friendly agricultural practices for arid climates,” according to the USDA. Cotton farming has been a major factor in Maricopa, next to cattle, alfalfa, peas, melons, citrus and pecans.

The facility has a multidisciplinary research center that includes the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory and Western Cotton Research Laboratory. Major scientific accomplishments have been made previously at both of the laboratories, developing integrated management techniques to improve cotton production, control pests and improve methods for crop irrigation.

Twenty scientists work in the center divided within three research groups: pest control and plant pathogens, crop improvement and, third, water conservation. The individual groups have made remarkable accomplishments and continue their research for new agricultural discoveries.

One of the most highlighted accomplishments, according to Steve Naranjo, the center’s director, is with the biological control of aflatoxins in arid-land crops. The issue of A. flavus, which contaminates a variety of crops including corn, peanuts, tree nuts and figs, has become prevalent in warmer production areas and has become an economic threat to the farming industry.

A research group from the Arid Land Research Center has partnered with local growers to bring biological control technology, including aflatoxin biological control. The technology was first used in Arizona and is now available for commercial use.

Other accomplishments include: improving estimates of maize water use, development of a novel non-destructive marking technique for tracking bees and characterization of genetic diversity in a USDA guayule plant.

Though these accomplishments may be tough to understand, in non-scientific terms, they are taking full advantage of the natural resources and ultimately advancing the agricultural industry.

“We are just trying to make all the crops that we grow currently more productive and produce in a more economically efficient way,” Naranjo said. “We look for opportunities to introduce new crops in the region that might be a little more water efficient, such as the guayule plant.”

Guayule is a desert plant that can thrive on less water and is a resource for rubber and a special type of latex that does not contain a certain type of protein, which will benefit the tire and other industries around the globe. In recent years, Bridgestone has gotten interested in producing guayule as a commercial crop to supply its manufacturing, according to Naranjo.

Naranjo along with seven other researchers from the center were recognized for their research by a variety of scientific societies they belong to. Naranjo received the 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award from the International Organization of Biological Control. It recognized his outstanding contributions to furthering the science and implementation of biological control.

Naranjo’s background is in entomology, the study of insects. His research is focused on integrated pest management and finding the most efficient and economical ways for managing insect problems in field crops, with particular focus on cotton.

“I’m just a curious person and just love learning new stuff,” Naranjo said. “We’re just naturally curious. And we want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Aside from getting recognized for their research, the center works closely with local growers in the area, focusing on supplying practical solutions to agricultural problems.

“The work that we do really influences locally first,” Naranjo said. “So our customers are the growers, ultimately.”

For the future, the center is focusing on trying to develop an agriculture that is a lot more resilient to water shortages.

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Mayors discuss opportunities, challenges in Pinal

CASA GRANDE — Mayors from several Pinal County cities and towns joined together for a roundtable discussion on challenges and opportunities each face and how the communities can continue to work together on economic development and infrastructure issues.

Meeting at the recently completed Casa Grande Community Recreation Center Friday morning, the mayors weighed in on the most exciting things in their communities and discussed the biggest challenges. Most agreed economic development was the biggest struggle. For example, Mayor Christian Price of Maricopa said in order for his burgeoning city to grow economically, he understands that proper infrastructure needs to be in place.

Also at the Pinal Partnership-sponsored event, Florence Mayor Tara Walter and Eloy Vice Mayor Micah Powell said they have similar economic development hurdles — namely, that their towns are known as “prison towns” and they need to diversify their economic bases. Both agreed the prisons were economic drivers and good partners with the cities, but said growth might be hindered if they’re simply known for prisons.

One way Florence is trying to combat that stigma, Walter said, is by partnering with the state to provide workforce development for inmates, adding, “We need places for people to work after prison.”

And while not dealing with a prison label, Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland said workforce development is the biggest challenge in his community, because if there isn’t a trained workforce when Lucid Motors comes to town, “We’re going to be in a world of hurt.”

Lucid Motors is a California-based electric car company that has proposed building a manufacturing plant in Casa Grande. City officials said the company expects to break ground in August.

Infrastructure leads the way for challenges for Coolidge and Superior, according to their mayors. Superior Mayor Mila Besich said now that the Resolution Copper mine will be fully operational, updated infrastructure and enough housing for employees needs to be prioritized.

Regarding the positives that the respective cities have seen in their cities over the past 12 months, Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson, Price and Besich all mentioned significant projects: Nikola Motors truck manufacturing, APEX Motor Club and Resolution Copper, respectively. Powell touted Eloy’s new City Hall, which he proudly reported was built without having to take out bonds for the project. And Walter said improvements to her town’s water lines and streets were among the biggest accomplishments because they will assist with economic development.

McFarland elicited chuckles and some good-natured ribbing from his response: getting signs on Interstate 10 to alert drivers to Casa Grande, instead of the previous Coolidge/Florence sign.

The reality is, Powell said, that what’s good for one community is good for the others, noting that although the Nikola plant is in Coolidge’s city limits, it is to be a stone’s throw from Eloy.

“We’re generating buzz,” he said.

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Senate hopeful, former astronaut Mark Kelly makes stop in Maricopa
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — Mark Kelly has had many milestones in his life and is now in the midst of pursuing another.

Kelly, a Democrat, is currently running for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who was appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey following the death of John McCain.

Kelly has been a public servant for most of his life, being a former astronaut and Navy pilot during the Persian Gulf War and is the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011. His campaign was launched in February of this year and since then, he has been actively promoting his campaign around Arizona.

On Wednesday Kelly and his team stopped by Maricopa, visiting local businesses, organizations and city officials.

“There’s a pretty good chance I’ve been here before, I just didn’t realize it,” he said.

Aside from meeting business owners, he attended a Blue Star Moms meeting, getting to know the mothers of active duty members and what the organization does for the community.

Tracy Davis, vice president of the group in Maricopa, said he was nothing like what she had expected.

“His demeanor and sense of humor was great,” Davis said. “He was very personable and very humble. And great sense of humor.”

Kelly had been thinking of running for office for a while and with his wife’s full support, he decided to run and seek to create a change in 2019.

“I think you evaluate your personal trajectory at certain times and I just felt like especially in the last two years we’ve seen a level of partisanship and polarization,” Kelly said. “I see a lot of that happening in Washington, D.C., and you can either complain about it or stand up and try to do something about it.”

In regards to his campaign, health care, climate change, cost of education and wage growth are on the agenda of issues he is focusing on. For someone like Kelly, the hard facts of science have been a factor he never ignores.

“It’s frustrating to see someone like me who’s an engineer to see the science, data and facts are not always the top consideration in reality,” Kelly said. “I certainly do not have all the answers, but I feel very independent and would represent folks here in Arizona with an independent voice.”

One of his main areas of focus during his campaign is tackling health care and making sure that Arizonans are receiving the health care they deserve. He mentioned that those with pre-existing conditions must have continuing health care.

“If some members in the Congress would get their way, 400,000 Arizonans would lose their health care coverage. There’s also 2 million Arizonans that have pre-exiting conditions. If certain congressmen would get their way on this issue, many of them would lose their coverage,” Kelly said.

Changing the Affordable Care Act, negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and making sure that everyone has access to secure health care are aspects of the issue he is passionate about.

His campaign also emphasizes that he is not receiving any cooperate political action committee money, unlike many other U.S. Senate candidates.

“The money that corporations are allowed to put into our political system by funding campaigns and people running for the U.S. Senate makes it so far for those senators to solve these issues,” Kelly said. “To some extent, it is the one thing that’s responsible for a lot of the gridlock in Washington, D.C. And in my case, it’s not the case, I will not take a dollar in the cooperate PAC money.”

As Kelly is running for McCain’s old seat, he explained that McCain is someone he will always look up to. With both being Navy veterans, there is a close connection that Kelly remembers. Even though Kelly is running as a Democrat, he remembers McCain as a respectable bipartisan.

“I really respected John McCain for a lot of different things,” Kelly said. “He would work across the aisle when it really mattered. Take tough votes, maybe counter to what everybody else in his party was doing. Which I really respect.”

Kelly’s campaign is just beginning and even though it is his first time running for a political office, it has been everything he expected.

“It’s going really well and we’re working really hard, it’s a long way to November 2020, but we’re going to work really hard and we’re going to let the voters decide.”

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City of Maricopa intends to join Arizona-Mexico Trade Commission
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — The city is moving forward in joining the Arizona-Mexico Trade Commission with the hopes of expanding economic development opportunities in Maricopa.

City Manager Rick Horst recommended the city join at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

Purchase of the membership is $1,500 for a year, with three members becoming part of the organization.

The AMTC’s chairmen are Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Claudia Pavlovich, the governor of Sonora, Mexico. Ducey’s economic development staff leads the functions of the organization with four events a year for various needs of the program.

Sonora is home to a Ford plant that produces parts for the Ford Escort. The parts then get shipped to the U.S. to build the vehicles. By joining the organization, the city hopes job opportunities may be on the horizon.

“Although they’re American vehicles, one can argue about that,” said Councilwoman Julia Gusse.

Horst mentioned the Lucid Motors plant scheduled to be built in Casa Grande and the potential opportunity of getting involved with facilitating some of the smaller needs of the company through joining the AMTC.

Economic development and furthering the networking of the city are key components of joining the organization. Yet it is too soon to define the full benefits of becoming a member, according to Horst.

“Until you participate and get active with it, it’s hard to understand,” he said.

Councilwoman Nancy Smith has shown interest in being one of the three city officials active in the organization.

Other council members also determined that joining would benefit the city.

“I think this is something good for us, for our neighbors, and I’d like to see it be done,” Vice Mayor Henry Wade said.

The three members to join will be determined in upcoming council meetings.