Arizona grows world-renowned wheat, Desert Durum ®! When you hear the experts talk, they typically give the following eleven reasons. But the sustainability story of our Arizona and California farmers is incredible too.

1.      The phrase “Desert Durum®” has been trademarked with the U.S. Patent Office under the ownership of the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council and the California Wheat Commission.

2.      As a result, only Desert Durum® grown in Arizona and California qualifies for the Desert Durum® trademark. It’s globally recognized for it’s consistent, high-quality grade. 

3.      The special wheat is produced under irrigation in the desert valleys and lowlands of Arizona and California.

4.      These are regions of high temperatures (May-June temperatures average 32C) and low rainfall (annual precipitation averages less than 200 mm).

5.      Desert Durum® wheat is planted November through February and harvested in May and June.

6.      Desert Durum® enters the market up to three months ahead of the spring durum crops harvested in other North America durum-producing areas.

7.      Desert Durum® is delivered “Identity Preserved” to U.S. domestic and export markets, a system that allows buyers to purchase grain of varieties having intrinsic quality parameters specific to their needs.

8.      Annual production requirements can be contracted ahead to experienced growers using certified seed and then “identity” stored for season-long shipment at the buyers’ schedule.

9.      Desert Durum® averages an annual export rate of 50%, especially exported to Italy to make pasta.

10.  A local brewer, Arizona Distilling Company, produces Arizona’s first-ever grain-to-bottle whiskey. Made with Desert Durum® wheat, it maintains a unique balance of sweet and spicy, where molasses, pecan pie, caramel and black mission figs tame the noticeable bite of peppercorn, allspice and cinnamon, says the Arizona Distilling Company website.

11.  Desert Durum® is highly regarded for its protein strength allowing a variety of different pasta shapes!

The sustainability story is a lasting one too. Working with plant breeders, seed companies and others in the very important grain supply chain, Arizona and California have perfected the durum over the decades.

But as Eric Wilkey, President of Arizona Grain Company in Casa Grande says, “You can’t find harder working, conservation-focused farmers than our farmers here in Arizona.” He goes on to explain that because of the high cost to farm in the desert, our Arizona grain farmers are very judicious in the use of water, soil amendments and more.

“I believe that a solid case can be made for sustainability based on the unique set of factors that are present here in the desert production areas of Arizona,” said Wilkey.

He drills down specifically regarding wheat. “On a per-acre basis wheat growers deal with few pests, plant, bacteria, fungus, or insects, so wheat production in Arizona uses very little herbicides and pesticides. What pests are present are well managed through resistance bred into our adapted wheat varieties.

“On a per-acre basis, we achieve above-average yields which means for a unit of input we get greater output utilizing less land to produce the same volume of crops in other environments.

“Because we have less adverse weather events in the critical growth and maturation periods there are few if any crop losses. In other growing areas there are higher percentages of failed crop acres, prevented planting, hail, flood, pests, drought, frost or freezes. All these events waste resources and at worst produce zero to little output.”

Wilkey’s point that water in Arizona is expensive plays a key role in Arizona farmers' and ranchers’ conservation focus on this important resource. “Our water costs money and when a resource is priced it is managed. Farms become very efficient, technology is deployed, and the resource is conserved. In the West, we cannot afford to waste inputs. When rain-fed regions of the country are fertilized, a much greater percentage than in Arizona is lost to runoff into streams and lakes which has other environmental impacts.”

Wilkey also reminds us that double-crop options in many growing areas, certainly in Arizona and California, also increase productivity per unit of land as compared to areas with shorter growing seasons. 

Adds Wilkey, “I want to very clearly point out I am not making the case that other production areas and farmers are not producing sustainable crops, but I am saying where we have disadvantages, we also have real advantages to offset those. 

Wilkey was our guest this last Saturday on KTAR’s Rosie on the House where he gave great insights into the state’s Desert Durum, sustainability practices and an overall first-hand commodity report. The full show is embedded below.