Friday, December 8

How much more you’ll pay for goods Pinal County farmers grow after Colorado River cuts

PINAL COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — The federal government on Tuesday announced water cuts to states that rely on the Colorado River, including Arizona, as drought and climate change leave less water flowing through the river and deplete the reservoirs that store it.

Under Tuesday’s reductions, Arizona is expected to lose slightly more water than it did this year when 18% of its supply was cut. In 2023, it will lose an additional 3%, an aggregate 21% reduction from its initial allocation.

Those hit hardest by the water cuts: Pinal County farmers, who will receive no Colorado river water next year. But ultimately, that affects how much you, the consumer, will pay. And it’s only going to go up.

Farming is a multibillion-dollar industry in Arizona; food and goods our farmers grow are distributed worldwide. But with these water cuts, some southern Arizona farmers will have to dramatically change how much they farm, which will change how much you pay.

Triple M Farms is the dictionary definition of a family business. “About 103 years in the state,” Jace Miller said.

For more than a century, Miller and his family have grown alfalfa, barley, oats and more in the East Valley. But in order to grow it all, they need water, and now this is their reality. “This year, we took about a 40-60% cut in Pinal County alone, and next year we’ll take a 100% cut,” Miller said.

With a complete cut of Colorado River water, Miller said they’ll only be able to farm about 50% of their acres, making their alfalfa more expensive to Arizonans who use it daily. “We could see $60, $80, or $100 a ton increase,” Miller said. “People that own small equestrian centers with horses, small ranchers, small cattle herds and things like that. They’ll be most negatively affected by this.”

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A similar price situation is going to happen not far away at Wuertz Gourd Farm. “We’ve played around with some numbers and more than likely we’ll have to go up about a 6 to 7 percent increase in price, which doesn’t seem like much but I hate to have to do that because it’s such a niche business. We don’t want to turn away our customers,” Weylon Wuertz said.

Wuertz said they have to make difficult decisions for their family business. “So we’re kind of in a tough choice right now in do we keep farming? Do we sell? Right now, we’re doing okay, but okay isn’t good enough,” Wuertz said.

Wuertz Gourd Farm and Triple M Farms will tap into some of their own wells, but that isn’t enough to sustain supply and demand. “It’s really difficult to make the decision, okay are we going to have to cut equipment out? Are we going to have to cut acres back? And what employees are we going to have to lay off? It’s something I think about every day when I’m awake,” said Miller.

Even tapping into their own wells it’s not a perfect solution. The farmers said not only has everything been more expensive for them due to inflation, but running their wells will be a large increase in electricity costs too, making it difficult to make ends meet all around.

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