Yuma ag expert receives state honor
Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott named to the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame
Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott of Yuma, who spent nearly 40 years advising the area’s farmers through the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, is going to become a museum exhibit.
She has been named to the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame, and sat down last week for an interview to provide an oral and video history for an interactive display to be included in the Heritage Museum of the planned Arizona Farm and Ranch Experience attraction in Avondale, as well as a book about its members published every four years.
“It’s a big deal, it really is. I never knew, that all of this existed” when her friend, Nancy Caywood-Robertson of Casa Grande, nominated her earlier this year. Nominees typically roll over for consideration the next year if they aren’t selected, but Stevenson-McDermott, who turns 69 this month, got in on the first try.
Much of her recognition over the years has been as a pioneering female in what is still a maledominated field, but also for her deep knowledge of Yuma County and the soil and water which has made it an agricultural hub.
And when Stevenson-McDermott doesn’t have the answer off the top of her head, she knows where to find it, such as a paper copy of a soil survey taken of the county’s farmland some 50 years ago, which has much more detail than a later one that is posted online.
The earlier study took samples
as often as every 100 feet, as opposed to doing it every half-mile and blending the data, she said: “Maybe on the casual view that’s OK, but for a farmer, all those inclusions and changes and soil textures and water capacity and depth, are all of the things the farmers need to make business decisions on how they’re going to handle their cropland, the more detailed the better.”
She doesn’t expect the agency, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will ever repeat the old survey and says it doesn’t have the funding to put the documents online. So since her retirement eight years ago, she’s made sure the three conservationists who have succeeded her have held onto them, and she’ll do it herself if she has to.
Stevenson-McDermott grew up in Tucson and went to the University of Arizona, getting a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, the first woman to do so in a decade. But it wasn’t her first choice.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian. I think every little girl wants to have a horse or be a veterinarian and I did both. But when I got to college I signed up for animal science and the professor said ‘don’t even bother, because we don’t want women.”
Her first job after graduating in 1969 was at the Yuma field office of the federal Soil Conservation Service, when she was hailed with one headline that shouted: “Believe It If Able, a Girl Soil Scientist With Yuma Unit of the SCS,” over an article ending with speculation about prospects for her “making a career of it” versus getting married.
She transferred to the Phoenix field office the next year, but two years after that she became the first woman promoted by the agency to a district conservationist position, in the Wellton-Mohawk field office, at just 24.
“It was really just an interesting time. I had a oneperson office so everything that got done, I did it,” she said. “We didn’t have airconditioning, we didn’t have four-wheel drive, we didn’t have normal things like other people had. But the people were wonderful, and we got a lot done,” she said.
Twelve years later the office was combined with Yuma’s, and Steven-son-McDermott became the conservationist for four districts, three in Arizona plus Bard in California.
In providing the agency’s voluntary services to growers, she worked on soil and water conservation projects such as ditch lining and land leveling, including some of the first laserguided land leveling ever done, in the Wellton area.
She was active in teaching the agricultural community and representing it to the public. She appeared with George Gatley on “Farming in Yuma,” a live local morning TV show, led tours of the Wellton-Mohawk Salinity Project while based in that office, taught soils courses at Arizona Western College and gave speeches to local residents and tourists alike.
She said she was lucky enough to find work that never felt like work. That’s basically what I did, because every day I got to go work with farmers, or write stories, or talk to kids in classrooms, or do career counseling, or all that stuff that goes along.
Since retiring in 2008 she’s still been leading tours, giving speeches and staying active as a member of the Yuma Area Ag Council and the Colorado River Citizens Forum, among other organizations. She has been writing the Yuma Sun’s “Yuma Ag & You” column for the last two years.
“You will not believe how many phone calls still come into this house for her on farming matters,” said Mac McDermott, her husband of 21 years. Together the couple lead the Desert Bass Anglers, billed as the city’s largest fishing club.
She says her community outreach, now done mostly through articles and speeches, continues, and she always has more work to do.
“I write articles every spring, about the burning of the fields (outside of Yuma), and one of my farmers said to me, ‘you know, you’ve almost got them convinced,’ and I said I know. We’re still working on it,” she said, laughing.
This year’s other inductees into the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame are Terry and Ramona Button of Gila River Community-Sacaton, Jesse W. Curlee of Scottsdale, Peter Andrew “Andy” Groseta of Cottonwood, James Ohaco of Winslow, J. Charles Wetzler of Phoenix, Radius A. (Ray) Hudson of Laveen and Rich Levis of Tempe.
In 2015, after seven years the hall of fame selected its first three Yuma-area residents: Dr. Kurt Nolte and Shirley and George Murdock.
BoBBi sTevenson-mcdermoTT Talks aBouT her career leading up to her induction in March 2017 into the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame.
BOBBI STEVENSON-MCDERMOTT DISCUSSES HER CAREER LEADING up to her induction in March 2017 into the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame.