The Arizona Republic reported on July 18th that Arizona once again set a record: “Phoenix has broken the record for most consecutive days at 110 degrees or higher. Now at 19 straight days with temperatures at or above 110 degrees, this breaks the previous record set in 1974.” In the meantime, during the past two weeks, Arizona Farm Bureau received numerous media queries asking how our farmers and ranchers are coping and what’s the impact on crops and livestock.

In a phrase, Arizona agriculture has got this. Certainly, farmers and ranchers must be vigilant in managing and watching over their crops and livestock. They’ll see higher energy costs during these summer months and it’s no fun for farmers in those areas of the state where their reduced water allocations make the science and art of farming that much more challenging. 

One farmer reminded me, “Remember, Julie, coming from a cotton farm family yourself, cotton loves the heat.” Pinal County Farmer Paco Ollerton also said, “If the media is looking for something here, it’s kind of a non-story since we’re used to high temperatures in the summer.” 

But Ollerton also agreed that record-setting temperatures are no fun for any of us. For crop farmers, they must regularly monitor fields to assess plant stress. They also have the benefits of modern-day monitoring systems that use probes and even drones to assess optimum times to water. 

Applying managed irrigation watering practices means Arizona crop farmers don’t have to rely on Mother Nature for rain (a bit different story for our ranchers, they need the rain). In the Midwest, if you don’t rely on applied irrigation, consecutive days of 110 degrees with no rain would be a grave concern and have a huge impact on the health of their crops. 

Tree Farmers in Mohave County even use monitors embedded in the trunk of their pistachio trees to know when to apply the exact amount of water to each individual tree. This ensures optimum timing and reduces water use since overwatering never becomes an issue. 

Down on the Ranch

On the ranching side, one of our ranchers gave great insights into what ranch families must do during Arizona’s hot summers. “We still have water in some of our dirt tanks, but some of them are getting low,” said southern Arizona rancher Tina Thompson. She and her husband ranch in Cochise County.   

Not all their pastures on the YY Ranch have dirt tanks, a fifth-generation operation. “We just put our registered herd into a pasture without a dirt tank, so they are totally relying on pump water here at the house.”    

On many of their regular water storage tanks, they even have monitors that will alert them if water is low. They also use solar power (and most Arizona ranches for decades have used solar) to run their pumps.  “Last week we had our solar pumps quit,” explains Thompson. “Thank the Lord we had a water monitor on the storage tank that alerted us to this right away and we were able to call our pump guy to get him out as soon as possible and David [her husband] was able to switch over to a backup well.  That well doesn’t pump near enough to keep up with the demand, but it got us by until the pump guy could get out here.  During heat waves, our water pumps and wells are very much stressed, and we have to stay on top of it.”

Thompson went on to explain that it means they don’t like leaving the ranch for long periods when they are in the middle of summer.  “We have monitors on several of our storage tanks now but not on everything, so we are constantly checking waters and sticking close to the ranch. If we do dare to go somewhere we have to make sure someone is checking waters and have a plan in place if something goes wrong with the water supply.  Mostly we have cattle in a pasture with a dirt tank full of water.”

But the management and the worry are not over, especially during the summer. Thompson said, “Then there is the fire danger to worry about! We have trailer tanks full of water ready to put out fires!  From lightning and careless road traffic, we must be on top of the situation during the summer.” 

Northern Arizona rancher and Coconino County Farm Bureau President Benny Aja adds another insight into what drought and high temperatures force ranchers to do. “During the drought of 2020 through 2021 we literally kept the wildlife alive. There was literally no water in any of our part of the state, and even though some of the wildlife groups hauled some, exclusively for wildlife, the amount of water that the ranchers hauled dwarfed their efforts. Plus, our water was provided to the wildlife as well as our livestock.”

In all of it, Thompson and Aja indicate this is nothing new. A severe drought adds another layer to it that involves hauling water to cattle and wildlife. Some summers are tougher than others and well-run ranches know how to mitigate the challenges.

On the Dairy

Herd management and husbandry are well documented and committed to on our Arizona dairies as well. Our Arizona dairies are famous for how well they can keep the dairy cows cool in the summer. Yes, we’ve set a record for consecutive days at or above 110 degrees in the Summer of 2023, but on our dairies under the shade and with misters running at full speed, the temperature will clock in at 67 to 70 degrees for our dairy cows. 

Our livestock farmers make it a priority to keep their livestock cool and healthy during an Arizona summer, and ultimately year around. Industry standards help lead the way as well.