Bill proposes lease between tribe, Pumpkin Patch

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — A new bill filed by a tribal lawmaker is proposing that the Navajo Nation lease land at the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry sites in order for two companies to continue growing pumpkins and popping corn.

Navajo Nation

The bill, which was posted Monday on the Navajo Nation Council's website, proposes that the tribe lease 12,766 acres of farm land to Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc. and Upland Desert Popcorn LLC.

In addition to the land, the companies would lease additional sites, facilities, irrigation equipment, water and utilities from NAPI.

Both companies have previously leased land from NAPI. Pumpkin Patch has been operating at the farm since 1991, and Upland Desert Popcorn began in 2001.

The contract between the companies and NAPI was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016, and NAPI planned to use the land to grow wheat to supply its new flour mill company, according to The Daily Times archives.

Pumpkin Patch co-owner John Hamby said today in an email that the contract with NAPI allows the companies to remain on site through October in order to complete the processing of last year's crops.

NAPI CEO Wilton Charley could not be reached for comment today.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie is sponsoring the bill, which has been assigned to the Resources and Development Committee. The committee has final authority to approve and authorize the lease between the tribe and both companies for 15 years starting this year, according to the bill.

The proposed lease agreement is attached to the bill, and it states the companies would pay the tribe a flat annual lease of $150 per acre, and NAPI cannot impose any additional payments.

In a telephone interview today, Tsosie called Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers and Upland Desert Popcorn "good neighbors," explaining that both have provided job opportunities and economic development throughout the years. He said when he served on the Resources and Development Committee, he encouraged NAPI to extend its business relationship with the companies.

The legislation states the tribe established NAPI as a tribal enterprise in 1970 to operate the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and to manage an agricultural business. It further states NAPI has no leasing authority and has not submitted a lease management plan to the tribe for consideration, implementation or approval, and under the Navajo Nation Trust Land Leasing Act of 2000, the tribe can issue leases without the approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary.

Tsosie said because of that information, the tribe has authority over the use of the land.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.