In a recent Arizona Farm Bureau White Paper, the drought’s impact on both farming and ranching in Arizona highlighted the serious hit on Arizona agriculture, certainly in all the west.
With grazing Arizona’s dominant land use, accounting for 73% of the state’s total land area, the drought’s serious impact has been particularly difficult on our ranching community. More than 6,000 ranches across the state raise cattle.
Arizona grazing is dependent on rain to provide the water needed to sustain healthy rangelands, not only for cattle but for wildlife. The drought also means that drinking water sources available on Arizona ranches are running dry.
In addition to a lack of drinking water, the drought means that there is an extreme lack of forage for cattle to eat. One ranch has had to absorb a 94% increase in hay purchases as compared to this same time last year (even though the ranch even has irrigated pasture to supplement feed). The need to supplement with protein blocks and salt has also increased not only feed costs but labor costs, as these supplements must be delivered and monitored much more closely.
To share one southern Arizona Ranch family’s challenges during this drought, Arizona Farm Bureau’s “The Voice” blog interviewed Tina and David Thompson. Here are their answers to our questions.
The Voice: Arizona’s drought has had a devastating impact on our ranching community. What’s been the impact on your own ranch?
Tina and David Thompson: We have had to reduce our herd numbers for two years now. Fewer cattle equal less yearly income. Supplement feed costs have increased. We normally have reserve grass resources because we understock our range so that we don’t graze all the grass available but now we are down to the last blade of grass!
The Voice: The drought means that drinking water sources available on Arizona ranches are running dry or already dry. How are you ensuring your cattle and wildlife have access to water? How many stock tanks does your ranch have and what is the condition that they are in?
Tina and David Thompson: Over the years we have established 10 wells, 37 drinkers, 18.5 miles of pipeline and 15 storage tanks that we are totally reliant on right now. We never turn any of these water sources off so that wildlife always has reliable water even if our cattle aren’t in the area.
We have also installed 2 water monitoring systems on strategic storage tanks so that we can check our water supply remotely ensuring that we don’t have any broken floats or pipelines.
We have 21 dirt tanks. We are only able to water cattle on two of them now. The rest are eighter dry or have a mud bog puddle in the bottom that cattle would get stuck in if we allowed them to use it.
Glass half full: this drought has allowed us to clean out 5 dirt tanks this year.
The Voice: Obviously, the next big concern is forage. No rain, no forage growing. How are you dealing with this?
Tina and David Thompson: We believe in banking grass for the bad years. We like to leave a reserve of grass every year. We keep our herd numbers lower to be able to do this. We have had two summers of substantially below normal rain. Both of those years we have reduced our herd even more. Even with that, we have used all our reserves.
It is critical now for us to get a normal summer of rain. Otherwise, we will have to sell ALL the cattle. We went into the winter last year with a number of cattle we thought we had enough grass for to get us to the summer rains. The forage that is left now is a poorer quality that we must provide mineral and protein supplements at a higher rate than we would normally have to.
The Voice: Explain to readers the long-term impact for ranchers if they must sell off their herds?
Tina and David Thompson: When having to sell your cattle in a drought, typically the market is flooded with all the cattle in the area being sold due to drought, so you get a lower price. Then, when we come out of the drought, everyone wants to buy cattle and prices for cattle are up!
So, you can’t restock at the same price you sold and lose a lot of money there. We put a lot of time and money into building our herd into high-quality genetics that will all be gone if we must sell. This will take many years to get back. Also, the cattle here are conditioned to our country and vegetation. Mammas teach their offspring what plants to eat (or not to eat) and where the water sources and best grazing is. You lose that with purchased cattle.
The Voice: What federal programs have you used to mitigate losses to the business and what was effective; what was not effective? Livestock forage program? Pasture, Rangeland and Forage Insurance (PRF)? Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus? Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP)?
Tina and David Thompson: The only federal programs we have used are the Livestock Forage Program and the PRF. Both have been extremely helpful.
The Voice: What’s on the horizon for you? How hopeful are you about ranching in Arizona?
Tina and David Thompson: As a heritage ranch, this isn’t the first drought since 1879! Therefore, we plan to keep going. We will do what we must to keep the ranch operation surviving so that we can pass it on to the next generation.
One additional challenge in the midst of the drought includes statewide fires. For information on fire relief resources, check out our new page called Fire Relief Resources.