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Seeds of change: For the first time in decades, farmers in Arizona are divided over presidential election

Arizona has not voted for a Democrat since 1996. But President Trump's immigration, trade and environmental policies have sown division among farmers.
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With the presidential election just over two weeks away, farmers in the battleground state of Arizona have mixed feelings on whether or not they are better off now than they were four years ago, before President Donald Trump took office.

From broccoli to kale, milk, and cattle, it's a state that feeds millions across the nation — and has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996. But for 2020, it is leaning towards a Biden-Harris ticket after the notable endorsement of Cindy McCain, widow of longtime Republican Sen. John McCain.

“A lot of the greens that land on dinner tables across America come from right here in Arizona," farmer John Boelts told NBC News. "Last year alone, Yuma county was the third-largest vegetable producer in the country.”

Boelts plans on voting for Trump because he believes the incumbent strives for economic freedom and success, all which have helped his family and business in the last four years. Though he believes Biden is a good person, Boelts strongly believes the Biden-Harris ticket gets “it all wrong” when it comes to agriculture. He argues that a Democratic presidency would only impose more restrictions on how to grow and sell goods.

Boelts, who is currently cultivating honeydew melons and leafy greens, credits his success to the repeal of the Obama Clean Water Rule, a set of pollution protections for small streams and wetlands that received great oppositions from agricultural workers.

Lettuce is harvested and placed in containers in Yuma, Ariz.
Lettuce is harvested and placed in containers in Yuma, Ariz.Alfred J. Hernandez / AP

“The government was seeking to regulate every drop of water, whether it was in a canal, a pond, a puddle, or river," Boelts said. "And that had big implications for how we affordably and effectively produce food for our country and our world. We appreciate that the current administration worked hard to come up with a rule that made sense. It didn't overreach and take over all water in the country."

Despite Trump’s strict viewpoints on immigration, Boelts supports a labor reform where people can come to the United States and work in the agricultural field. “We need availability to workers that want to come to and work in this country and help us harvest the crops and do the things we do,” he said. "We're dependent on folks coming in from outside this country and working in agriculture here."

Similarly, Vic Smith, the CEO of a farming conglomerate, also believes in an immigration process where workers can come to the U.S. and work — but rather than voting for the incumbent, Smith will be voting for Biden.

"For us to survive as United States producers of fresh, healthy vegetables, we have to have a stable, reliable, legal workforce. Let's set up a rational policy," Smith said.

He also hopes that a vote cast for Biden will help overcome the challenges of climate change. Most recently, Smith's farms have been exposed to droughts and very limited water supply.

"That's the one that scares me the most about President Trump," he said. "To deny that there's climate change and that it's being significantly affected by man... I think is totally irresponsible."