By Justen Ollendick, Arizona Farm Bureau Communications, Educational & Marketing Intern: A lifetime resident of the once hay-shipping capitol of the world, Gilbert, Arizona, Richard Morrison took time out of his busy schedule to share with me the legacy of his family’s vast operations, and how it has impacted his life.
An interview with Richard Morrison, water law
Part of an ongoing series about Arizona’s farmers and ranchers.
Talk about your farm and ranch...
I grew up on a
Today, I also own a farm in northeastern Colorado and have an interest in a company with vast acreage (of
Richard Morrison giving a lecture in Israel at
What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming and/or ranching?
The impact of urbanization on our operation has been huge, going all the way back to the first subdivisions in the area in the early 1960s. Unlike some landowners, we decided NOT to develop as quickly as possible. Our family plan involved developing as slowly as possible, so as to allow Marvin and Kenneth Morrison the joy of continuing to manage the operation they developed, and to do so for the rest of their lives—which they did.
At the cattle ranch, we tried to innovate and modernize but to be honest, found that change doesn’t happen as fast in that context.
Why did you choose to go into agriculture?
Ready to start working on the next alfalfa field in Gilbert, AZ.
What generation of farming/ranching are you?
I am the third generation of Morrisons who have farmed in Arizona. On my mother’s side of the family (her father was Clyde Neely, a director of SRP) I am the fourth generation farming in Arizona. I have two more generations behind me in our family.
Will anyone in your family ... younger generation ... pursue farming and/or ranching?
I have a daughter and son-in-law who helped us manage the cattle ranch, and who are expected to continue with horse breeding through time. My grandson is two months old, so it is a little too soon to predict about him.
Some of the cattle
Would you ever consider growing an emerging crop or changing your farm or ranch model?
In addition to running a commercial scale operation, we looked at niche marketing for our cattle ranch, targeting the local/regional market for natural beef in the Flagstaff area. We found an existing demand there but the efficiencies were lacking as far as the natural beef part of our operation was concerned. It was not prudent to continue that new model in our location. We also tried our hand at agri-tourism, but frankly decided we prefer to be conventional producers. If I were to start over with a cattle breeding operation, I would do it on privately owned land on the high plains. Ranching on public land in Arizona exposes the operation to excessive levels of vandalism, and unreasonable constraints on management flexibility. It also costs the producer dollars and cents because of the transportation costs involved in getting calves to the feedlots that want them.
You know what came to mind when I read that question? My father always said “Never be the first one to try a new technique, technology, or market. Don’t be the last one to try them either.” I think all of us are continually considering our options. My limited involvement in Brazilian
What are your community activities? Why are you involved?
I am board chair of the Morrison Institute
I serve as a Trustee
Finally, I am very active in a host of church-related activities because I am also an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.
What is one fact/experience/achievement no one knows about you?
I served on the USDA National Advisory Council for Rural Development in 1987-88, which was while I was in seminary in California. That was an unusual combination of activities, for sure.
What do you think you do really well? Explain.
I have had a very satisfying career as a water lawyer, representing several irrigation districts through the years, but I think I also taught agricultural law very well at the Morrison School of Agribusiness at ASU. (I developed some expertise in several disciplines of the law important to farmers and ranchers. I also served on the national board of the American Agricultural Law Association from 1999-2003.)
Richard and Elaine Morrison.
Why are you a farm bureau member?
How will the next generation of farmers have to operate?
Farmers will have to be even more attentive to energy challenges, soil science, environmental challenges, drought, and ever-changing market conditions. Production methods are important but marketing seems to be the perennial challenge associated with domestic “overproduction.” The United States has done a better job of exporting its technology than its commodities. Collaboration and continuing education with
Editor's Note: Watch for a "Conversation" article in the September issue of Arizona Agriculture with Richard Morrison talking about the future of Arizona agriculture. Arizona Agriculture is exclusive to agriculture members of Arizona Farm Bureau. Not a member? Join below.