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Mesa’s for-profit farming-baseball idea is a foul ball

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City-based farming is a bad idea for central Arizona agriculture. If Mesa directly entered farming, the current farmer lessees would lose their ability to farm. The idea of a government entity competing directly with local farmers reminds me, related or not, of the necessary separation between church and state.

Baseball fans from around the U.S. flock to the greater Phoenix area each spring to bask in sun-kissed warm weather at fancy resorts while journeying to ballparks in the afternoon for America’s favorite pastime, baseball.

The greater Phoenix area is home to Major League Baseball’s spring training in the Cactus League. Fifteen teams including the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies draw large crowds to Phoenix. They watch hometown heroes smack balls out of the ballpark and witness aspiring new players; before the regular season begins in the home city.

Over the last several years, Mesa has pulled out all stops to keep the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise at the city’s Hohokam Stadium spring training facility. The Cubbies traditionally draw the largest crowds in the league and related tax revenues.

With the stadium lease coming up for renewal, the Chicago team demanded that Mesa build a $99 million stadium to keep the Cubbies and its loyal springtime fan base in the city. At the same time, the Cubbies were courted by a Florida city willing to build a new stadium in the Grapefruit League.

In a voter referendum last fall, 67 percent of Mesa voters approved the allocation of city funds to build the state-of-the-art stadium. The Cubs chose to remain in Mesa.

Agriculture has been drug into this baseball issue since Mesa needs new funding to pay for the Cubs’ new digs.

Mesa owns about 11,000 acres of land in Pinal County located south of Mesa; land which is leased to local farmers for crop production. According to an article in the East Valley Tribune by Garin Groff, the city is dissatisfied with the current farm lease income. The leases expire in December 2012.

To make more money, Mesa is considering its own for-profit farming venture (actually farming the land) to raise funds for the ballpark. The city’s options include renegotiating the lease terms with current farmers, hiring a farm manager, or the city gaining direct control of the farms. In other words, the city could literally farm the land.

Full-time city farming is a bad idea for central Arizona agriculture. If Mesa directly entered farming, the current farmer lessees would lose their ability to farm in this area. The idea of a government entity competing directly with local farmers reminds me, related or not, of the necessary separation between church and state.

What business does Mesa have in full-time farming? Zilch.

What if the city grew only cotton on its land and decided to build its own cotton gin to generate more dollars. A government cotton gin would be competing with privately-held gins. The city would have an unfair advantage – the ability to tap taxes from its 440,000 residents.

A question - is the city hoping to capitalize on current higher commodity prices to increase city revenues? Any farmer will tell you that’s a dumb idea. Commodity prices can sink faster than a 95-mile-per-hour sinker fastball pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Mesa should ride out this land-price squeeze and expect its residents to cover the costs which they approved.

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.”

Mesa should remain city-fied and leave farming to the professionals - real farmers. 

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