Drought hits Pinal County farm family hard

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: May. 27, 2022 at 8:30 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Nancy Caywood is a third generation farmer in Pinal County. Her grandfather bought the farm 92 years ago. Her parents worked it and now at 68, her son does the heavy lifting while her teenage grandchildren have decided they too, want to farm. That would be five generations working the same 255 acres.

But that future is in doubt right now.

The family had to abandon cotton a few years back because they didn’t have enough water. So now, it’s alfalfa which they sell to dairy operations. And even that has become a challenge.

“Last year we should have gotten eight to ten cuttings and we only got two,” Caywood said.

They’ve had four this year but that’s come to an end before the first of June when the hottest months creep in.

“Our canals are now empty, they shut our water off completely,” she said “This is the last watering we’re going to get.”

The “they” is the San Carlos Reservoir which doesn’t have any more water to give to the farmers. The family has a lifetime contract with the reservoir to provide their water for agriculture. But without rain, it depletes pretty quickly as it has for years now.

“But at that time you just thought well we’re just low on rainfall this year, next year will be better and the next year and the next year,” she said. “And here it is 30 years later.”

Caywood’s son leases some other farmland to grow corn to make ends meet. That land uses Central Arizona Project Water (CAP) but that’s drying up too as the state is now into Tier 1 cuts, the first cuts in CAP’s history.

“It can be up to 70% is what we’ve been told,” she said. “We can lose up to 70 per cent of our CAP water.”

“The farmers, the agricultural entities in Pinal County do not have long term contracts to Central Arizona Project water,” said Sharon Megdal, the Director for University of Arizona Water Resources.

Which means the farmers get cut back first over cities and towns along with the Indian Tribes. And Megdal says more cuts are on the way.

“We keep pretty much every year, every two years realizing that what we’re doing is not enough and that we have to do more,” she said.

Which means the future will be asking a lot of questions and maybe not liking the answers.

“We don’t want to sell this because it’s been in our family for so long and it’s paid for, our livelihood is out here,” Caywood said. “You know there’s a lot of history on this farm, a lot of love on this farm, we don’t want to give it up if we can avoid it.”

But it’s not just Mother Nature the farmers are facing these days. There’s a competition with the pro-growth community which has become a force in Pinal County.

“So it’s a challenge there to figure out how to balance continuation of the agricultural economy with the growth and there’s great potential growth in that area,” Megdal said. “So how to balance that, that’s the challenge.”

Which means the agricultural community is battling on two fronts for the water they need.

“We’re up against the folks who don’t want us here,” Caywood said. “They just don’t think agriculture belongs here.”

And that may be the toughest challenge of all.

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