Saturday, September 24, 2022

Nature Takes A Toll

Arizona Farmers, Ranchers Weigh In On State’s Mega-Drought

The third edition of the American Farm Bureau’s Assessing Western Drought Conditions survey illustrates many ground-level drought impacts, including an expected reduction in yields, removing or destroying orchard trees or multi-year crops, and selling off portions of herds and flocks. Arizona farmers and ranchers participated in the survey and shared their concerns.

While anonymous, the Arizona farmer and rancher comments below illustrate how serious their issues are during the state’s mega-drought and even hint at what they’re doing to mitigate their own farm and ranch challenges.

Fallowed fields in Pinal County due to the drought mean less food and fiber produced for Arizona families and the nation.

Drought Survey Comments

Commodity prices are elevated; reduced acres and increased inputs will reduce on-farm revenue by a minimum of 20% if input prices like fertilizer and fuel continue to increase.

Decreasing herd size due to no grasses growing on the range.

Developments on the Colorado River will determine additional impacts on agriculture that rely on Colorado River water.

The farming economy is under great stress with little hope for relief in the near future.

I’ve had to reduce total crop acres and dramatically increase fallowed acres. I’ve also not been able to irrigate alfalfa and grass crops during the summer due to reduced water
allocations.

In Pinal County, our water deliveries from CAP were reduced by 50% this year and will be eliminated next year. While we have well water available, we don’t anticipate that supply to be long-term.

We’ve spent the past 40 years improving our water use, sometimes cutting it by more than 50%. Plus, improved seed technology and other technologies keep allowing us to continue reducing the amount it takes to grow our crops in Arizona. But, when nature works against us, it seems like no modern-day improvements can stop it.

In the past, a few areas were impacted. Currently, every area is impacted by drought. The pressures are significant across all commodities in the agriculture industry. Thus, the stresses are felt in all areas of agriculture.

We’re dealing with increased supplement feed cost, a higher culling rate of the cow herd, and a decreased calf crop.

Having traveled to Israel a few times, I have been so impressed with how they handle their desalination of seawater and its reuse as treated wastewater on the ag crops (efficiently watered and appropriately charged and the value of crop produced is commensurate). This should be a practice we embrace.

Reduced herd size, which impacts cash flow in the short term. Without the USDA drought help, I would have folded already.

The drought is causing us to think about liquidating our herd.

The water shortage will end up with more regulations on us that in the end will be used to control our operations.

Trying to mitigate long-term economic impacts on smaller markets that took generations to develop. Examples are specialty seed, specialty forage, specialty citrus and vegetable.

We are being forced to delay the implementation needed for improvements, and are giving consideration to reducing staff numbers. Owners are putting more savings and personal income into ranch operations to keep afloat.

We’ve had wildfires from dry residual grass. A lot of pasture was burned to create a backburn in safer areas. We’ve changed our rotational grazing pattern and have to deal with the aftermath of the fire: damaged fencing, erosion on pastures and road erosion from firefighters’ vehicles.

We’ve cut our cow herd by almost 50% in order to retain some steers for beef sales. We are hauling water to range pastures; feeding supplemental hay and brewers mash to mother cows on the range. Having to feed beef animals 100% as there is no feed growing due to drought. Fortunately, we do make our own hay, so we don’t have to buy it. But all the associated costs have increased (diesel, seed, fertilizer, electricity).

Yuma has senior water rights, but it appears cutbacks are needed within the next year that may supersede those water rights.


The Arizona Farm Bureau staff contributed this information.

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