Farmers Live Earth Day Every Day on the Farm, One Example
As Mortimer Farms Chief Marketing Officer, Ashlee Mortimer is constantly answering media and public questions about the farm. Often, they veer in certain directions as it relates to humane treatment of animals, pesticide use, water management, organics, and climate change. In fact, this article could also be called, “How one Farmer Responds to Water Questions and Climate Change.”
Growing some 54 different crops, the Dewey-based Mortimer Farms (just outside of Prescott) features main crops of sweet corn, blackberries, strawberries, pumpkins, and vegetables. In just over a decade, they’ve taken the urban farm concept to the next level and have become known especially for their berries, entertainment on the farm and their farm store.
They also have a cattle ranch where just like our generational Arizona ranch families, they have been caring for the land the cattle graze on, the environment, and working hard to conserve natural resources.
Mortimer Farms primarily sell their crops right from the farm in their market (Mortimer's Market). Secondarily, they offer guests the opportunity to pick their own crops through the farm’s pick your own experience. And they sell their produce at the local farmers markets and to wholesale customers.
Ashlee Mortimer has become a regular on Arizona Farm Bureau’s “Talk to a Farmer” Friday during the month of October when we feature all the farm families that host Fall festivals on their farm. Plus, we feature her and Mortimer Farms a few times a year for NRCS’ mentor program on the live “Friday’s on the Farm.” Ashlee has become a wealth of information.
She’s happy to answer any questions anyone has and if she doesn’t know the answer she seeks it out with the family. And she gets plenty of questions.
Below are answers to the typical questions Ashley gets and proof our farm and ranch families are living Earth Day Every Day on the farm!
How has your farm adapted to the change in weather and increasing drought in Arizona?
Mortimer: For as long as recorded history weather features its ebbs and flows. This is not only the case from year to year but also the case from season to season. As farmers and ranchers, we work directly with Mother Nature. We work in correlation with the seasons. Watching weather reports and yearly trends is instrumental in executing our planting, watering, harvesting, and farming plans. Our biggest challenge is early frost. Frost can damage crops that have not completed their growing/harvesting season. To combat early frost, we implement row cover to insulate the crops and greenhouses to create ideal growing conditions.
Have you seen the need to increase your water usage as Arizona has become drier?
Mortimer: Arizona has always been an irrigation state. The earliest traces of irrigation in Arizona date back to 1200 BC. Arizona does not have consistent enough rain to rely solely on rainfall. Therefore, we use the tool and technology of irrigation. Other states in our country can rely solely on rainfall. In fact, many states receive more than the needed amount of rainfall and must work to remove water from fields.
When did you see the need to use more water than normal?
Mortimer: Each season requires a different amount of water. In the heat of the summer, just like humans, crops require more water to combat the heat. The 2022 monsoon season was incredible. So much so that we were able to turn off our irrigation systems for 2 months during the heat of the summer. We keep rainfall data, irrigation data, etc. and can refer back to the and see trends over the years.
How has the need for more water hurt the farm financially?
Mortimer: All our water at the farm is well water. To use the water, we pump water from our wells using electricity. Our electricity bill directly correlates to the amount of water our crops need. Additionally, we (like many farmers) utilize the best water efficient programs and technology available. A huge goal of ours is to protect our natural resources and conserve water. We can do so by using drip irrigation and pivot irrigation. Since converting the farm to these two forms of irrigation we save 90% of the water that was historically used on this farm.
Have the water problems created any other problems regarding the production of other goods?
Mortimer: Conserving water is essential to a farmer's daily job. Not only is water conservation important to grow food for this generation but for many generations to come. Because we are so efficient with our water usage, we have plenty of water to farm. Some areas in Arizona have better water situations than others. No one region of the state is the same when it comes to water availability. We are fortunate to be situated in a good water setting.
Are there any other situations or events that changed the production of goods or farm practices?
Mortimer: Labor is a huge challenge across all of agriculture. The cost of labor and the ability to find people willing to work in the fields is increasingly more difficult. Another challenge is weeds.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the March issue of Arizona Agriculture.