New Arizona Agriculture Studies Show Move to Higher-Value Crops While Also Conserving Water

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director: While Arizonans might dread the coming summer heat, we are eager to begin enjoying our summer melons and vegetables. Delicious Arizona watermelon, for example, is just around the corner, and in addition to celebrating and enjoying the cooling flavor of this ripe melon, we should also celebrate the economic contribution Arizona melons, vegetables, and other key agriculture commodities represent to the state. 

The shift to wheat-vegetable rotations has reduced per-acre water use 24% to 56%, dramatically improving economic water productivity – the dollar value of crops produced per acre foot of water applied. (Photo courtesy Yuma farmer Jonathan Dinsmore.)

Known mainly for carrots, Arizona’s Rousseau Faming Company in late April reported on Facebook that “the bees have been set out and are ready to get busy pollinating the watermelon plants that will be ready for harvest in the first weeks of June.” This family farm grows a variety of melons, vegetables, and summer sweet corn. They’re just one of the many Arizona family farms that comprise Arizona’s vegetable, melon and small grains industries, which combined had a total economic contribution of $2.1 billion in 2014 and $2.8 billion in 2015. Specifically in 2015, the vegetable and melon industry contributed more than $2.5 billion in sales to the Arizona economy, including multiplier effects, up from $1.9 billion in 2014.  The total contribution of the small grains industry, including multiplier effects, was $300 million in 2015, up from $206 million in 2014. 

Two recently-conducted studies by the Economic Impact Analysis Team at The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension look at Arizona’s vegetable and melon and small grains industries. They follow on the heels of an earlier study looking at the sustainability of small grains production in Arizona. Together, these three studies reveal some interesting links between these industries that help bolster farm profitability and conserve water. 

Arizona Watermelon

Small Grains, Vegetables & Melons Linked to Higher Value of Production and Water Conservation

You might ask why U of A’s Economic Impact Analysis team would study the link between small grains, vegetables and melons. Their short answer is that many Arizona farmers grow both. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, Arizona farms that earn most of their farm income from vegetables and melons also accounted for 29% of state small grains sales. Additionally, use of small grains (wheat and barley) in rotation with vegetable and melon production represents a strategy to maintain soil health and move towards higher-value, less water-intensive crops. By moving to vegetable and grain rotations from longer season crops, growers in Yuma, for example, have been able to shift production away from summer months. The shift to wheat-vegetable rotations has reduced per-acre water use 24% to 56%, dramatically improving economic water productivity – the dollar value of crops produced per acre foot of water applied. Compared to older cropping patterns, wheat-vegetable rotations increase economic water productivity 9 to 21 times

 So despite the heat, Arizona farmers are growing some amazing fruits and vegetables, generating higher cash receipts, while increasing water productivity. Personally, I keep my mind focused on our summer fruits and vegetables that way the heat doesn’t seem so unbearable.

Arizona Cantaloupe

Editor’s Note: Below are some more interesting data points from the U of A’s Economic Impact Analysis team’s recent studies.

 Among all U.S. states, in 2014 Arizona ranked

  • second in the nation in vegetable and melon production by weight,
  • third by the value of production for vegetables and melons,
  • third by vegetable and melon area harvested, and
  • second in production of broccoli, cantaloupe, honeydew, spinach, and head, leaf, and Romaine lettuce.

Vegetable and melon production requires a lot of labor

  • In 2014, Arizona vegetable and melon production required more than 26.7 million hours of hired on-farm labor year-round. This included directly hired, contract, and other agricultural support service workers employed on-farm.
  • More than 31,400 individuals worked in jobs directly or indirectly supported by the Arizona vegetable and melon industry.

County rankings according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture

  • Yuma County ranked in the top 0.1% of all U.S. counties with vegetable and melon sales.
  • Maricopa County ranked in the top 1% of all U.S. counties with vegetable and melon sales.
  • Yuma County ranked in the top 9% of all U.S. counties with durum wheat acreage.
  • Pinal County ranked in the top 3% of all U.S. counties with barley acreage.
  • The vast bulk of Arizona’s barley production goes to supplying feed for the state’s animal production industries. Maricopa and Pinal counties ranked within or near the top 1% of all U.S. counties in three major production indicators: (1) dollar value of milk sales, (2) dollar value of sales of livestock, poultry and their products, and (3) inventories of cattle on feed.

The predominant forms of organization of Arizona vegetable and melon and small grains farms are family-based operations and partnerships.

  • Family/individual operations and partnerships accounted for 55% of Arizona vegetable and melon sales, while family-held corporations accounted for another 34% of sales.
  • Non-family held corporations accounted for just 10% of state vegetable and melon sales.
  • Family/individual operations and partnerships accounted for 71% of wheat-producing farms, while another 22% of wheat-producing farms are organized as family-held corporations. Among barley-producing farms, 80% are family/individual operations or partnerships, with another 13% organized as family-held corporations.
  • Only 6 of 225 wheat-producing farms are organized as non-family held corporations, while only one out of a total of 177 barley-producing farms is organized as a non-family held corporation.

 For more information:

  • The Contribution of Arizona’s Vegetable and Melon Industry Cluster to the State Economy

https://cals.arizona.edu/arec/publication/contribution-arizona%E2%80%99s-vegetable-and-melon-industry-cluster-state-economy

  • The Contribution of Small Grains Production to Arizona‘s Economy

https://cals.arizona.edu/arec/publication/contribution-small-grains-production-arizona%E2%80%98s-economy

  • Developing Sustainability Metrics for Water Use in Arizona Small Grain Production

https://cals.arizona.edu/arec/publication/developing-sustainability-metrics-water-use-arizona-small-grain-production

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