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The Government needs all the Help it can Get; But Not In the Way You Think March 18, 2013

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

Seriously. And, no I have not lost my conservative values. I’m not talking about taxes; I’m talking about common sense.

A few weeks ago, Arizona Farm Bureau hosted its latest state board meeting in Yuma, Arizona. Once a year, the Board of Directors and state staff travel to a different part of the state and get a boots-on-the-ground tour of agriculture in our great state.

Yuma is one of my favorite places to check out our agriculture. Contributing more than one third of Arizona’s agriculture, Yuma is the place during the winter when nearly 90% of all lettuce and leafy greens are being grown. So, of course our tours took us to lettuce fields and everything green.

But, we also stopped at a Medjool Date farm to learn about the laborious and detailed process of growing dates.  It’s very labor intensive. One part of the process is pollinating every female date palm by hand.

A date palm being pollinated with good safety practices. A few years ago it was the growers and not OSHA that came up with a safer way to pollinate than using ladders.

To do it right and uniformly in the entire orchard, someone has to get up in the top of the palm and literally dust the pollen on the flower in order for the fruit to mature. If you’ve ever had a fresh Medjool date, you’ll cheer this effort. This high fiber, super-food is so yummy.

The date palm grows with an imposing, tall, slender, straight trunk.  The trunk itself consists of a spiraling pattern on the bark, with long, feather-like leaves, which are greenish-grey in color and have spines on the lower third of the stem. On the upper part of the crown, the leaves stand pointing upwards, and a pollinator has to move in among those leaves to get to the flowers. The flowers are clustered into elongated, sheathed inflorescences borne on separate male and female plants. The male inflorescence is white and fragrant, and the female inflorescence is smaller, and more yellowish or cream in color. To say the least, it’s not an easy process to pollinate the female inflorescence.

Just a few years ago, the government almost stalled the effective process of pollinating. The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations only had rules for ladders instead of mechanical lifts. It took the agriculture community to show that mechanical lifts would be a much safer strategy for the individual pollinating the date palms since the regulators just didn’t get the importance of improved techniques to carry out the work. It turned out to be a pretty big debate to get the governmental regulators to see the light, or in this case the mechanical lifts.

Today, the mechanical lifts are a big part of the process of bringing to market our yummy Medjool dates!

A Medjool Date.

A Medjool Date. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



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