- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Yuma’s Lettuce Days, the annual event that draws thousands of people and was once named best food festival in Arizona, has been cancelled.

The Yuma Visitors Bureau on Tuesday announced it won’t take place in 2017.

“We have very mixed emotions about it because we love Lettuce Days and we’re very attached to it. But it’s a business decision that we need to stop and regroup because it’s a big endeavor,” executive director Linda Morgan said.

Morgan said the event was costly and required a lot of resources to put on. This year’s event, held on the last weekend of February, cost about $234,000. It drew about 18,000 people, a lower number than usual. Fewer people attended this year because it was unusually hot on the weekend it was held, Morgan said.

Lettuce Days is a showcase of Yuma’s agriculture. Organized in the late 1990s, the festival includes live entertainment and cooking demonstrations. It has been named the best food festival in Arizona by National Geographic Traveler Magazine and was named Arizona’s best special event in 2011 during the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

But the heart of the festival is promoting the region’s agricultural contributions to the country, said Kevin Eatherly, president of the Yuma Area Agricultural Council.

Yuma contributes 85 percent of the nation’s winter produce and brings in billions in agricultural revenue to the state, Eatherly said.

“So that’s why it’s so important to promote agriculture, and Lettuce Days events offered opportunities to both discuss new crops that are being produced and water conservation that’s taking place throughout the industry, which is a very important topic right now,” he said.

The visitors bureau will focus its efforts on promoting Yuma on a year-round basis instead of focusing so many resources on the weekend event, Morgan said. She hasn’t ruled out bringing Lettuce Days back in 2018 or working with other organizations to revive it.

Lettuce Days represented the agriculture industry and gave people a chance to learn how crops are grown, said Bruce Gwynn, executive director of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association.

“But I also understand economics. It was a very expensive event to put on, and I think it takes a lot of courage to do that,” he said.

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