Pinal County Farmer Explains Why Arizona Agriculture is Efficient and Essential
Pinal County agricultural producer, Cassy England, who along with her uncle, manages the day-to-day of their family's row-crop operation is a strong advocate for implementing conservation practices and new advancements to make farming in Pinal County as efficient as possible in this time of uncertainty. As a result, I’ve been keen to capture her story for some time.
Cassy supports her belief that Arizona agriculture is efficient and essential to our economy and rich history. Serving her third term with the Pinal/Pima USDA board, she strives to promote and inform producers of programs offered. She does this by working to help educate farmers about the various ways they can improve their operations.
If you ask her what inspired her, she’ll say, “As a child, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Ak-Chin Farms managed by my grandfather. The moment I stepped onto that farm, I was captivated by the sheer beauty and the meticulous management of the land. The vibrant fields and thriving crops showcased the true potential of agriculture.”
Her generational farm story is not unlike many others as she adds, “My grandfather's unwavering passion for farming inspired me, urging me to stay connected to the world of agriculture. Every time I think back to those days on the farm, I'm reminded of the boundless possibilities and the deep-rooted connection I feel to the land.”
Holding a bachelor's degree in accounting and a life-long learner including recently graduating from Project CENTRL’s Class 31, Cassy uses her love of reading to help stay current on drought, conservation practices, and various issues affecting us in agriculture.
Arizona Agriculture: Give us an overview of your farming.
England: Working closely with my family, we've operated our farms in both Pinal and newly in Pima County. Our operations encompass approximately 6,500 acres of cropland. We utilize a careful crop rotation strategy, primarily short-staple cotton, alfalfa, wheat, barley, corn, and oats. This rotation not only maximizes our yields but also preserves the health of our soil.
Our irrigation techniques utilize tried and true methods to achieve efficient flood irrigation. This allows us to optimize water usage, minimizing waste while ensuring each crop receives the precise amount it needs to flourish. As stewards of the land, we take immense pride in our role as custodians of these acres, using modern practices with age-old wisdom to create a sustainable and prosperous farming legacy.
Arizona Agriculture: What aspect of production agriculture is the most exciting to you?
England: Working in Southern Arizona's agricultural landscape has truly opened my eyes to the incredible process of turning our soil into productive resources. It's remarkable how our careful efforts result in high-quality cotton fiber and nutritious feeds. Being a part of Arizona's farming tradition is something I deeply value, especially as we navigate the challenges of the desert environment.
What I find most satisfying is the tangible impact we make by sustainably producing crops that thrive in this region. The history of farming in Arizona adds an extra layer of significance to what we do, as we continue the legacy of those who worked the land before us. Despite the harsh conditions, we've managed to not only survive but thrive, using a blend of modern technology and timeless practices.
It's a fulfilling journey, and I'm proud to contribute to the ongoing story of agriculture in this desert landscape.
Arizona Agriculture: Additionally, what is most important to you in production?
England: The key to our success lies in the dedicated individuals who form our workforce. They're not just employees; they're an essential part of our farm family.
Their commitment, hard work, and expertise are the driving forces behind our achievements. We rely on their contributions to overcome challenges and celebrate successes helping us to remain productive.
The most crucial aspect of production agriculture, from my perspective, is creating an environment where exceptional people can thrive, collaborate effectively, and feel valued as integral members of our agricultural endeavor. Their professionalism is the cornerstone of our farm's continued success.
Arizona Agriculture: What are the latest technology innovations that you’ve instituted to squeeze every ounce of efficiency and cost savings out of your business?
England: Continuous improvement in efficiency is at the core of our farming philosophy. We actively embrace precision agriculture techniques to optimize our operations. This includes laser leveling to enhance water efficiency, carefully curated watering schedules to minimize water wastage, weekly field inspections to promptly address pest and other potential issues and leveraging NRCS programs to further enhance our overall efficiency.
In addition, we are dedicated to actively learning and exploration, constantly seeking out novel and innovative approaches that can bring tangible benefits to our farms. This commitment to staying informed and embracing advancements is integral to our mission of sustainable and efficient agricultural practices.
Arizona Agriculture: Your farming operation is large and would be considered a “commercial” operation by the uninformed. But it’s a family-owned and run business. What do you tell the public about your farming practices?
England: Our farming operation at Sierra Farming is indeed substantial, and while it might be viewed as a "commercial” venture, it's deeply rooted in our family values and traditions. We proudly represent the third and fourth generations of our family, and our shared commitment is not only to sustain Arizona Agriculture but also to nurture strong family bonds.
From humble beginnings, we've grown over the years, but our core principle remains which is efficiency. We firmly believe that by running our farm efficiently, we can ensure the sustainability of our operations and contribute to the quality of Arizona's agricultural products. We are proud to play our part in preserving the legacy of Arizona's farming heritage.
Arizona Agriculture: You farm in Pinal County, what does the future look like to you considering the county’s water challenges and even land availability for ag leasing?
England: Pinal County finds itself in a dynamic phase of growth, with new opportunities emerging on the horizon. While the scarcity of CAP water resources does pose a significant hurdle for farmers within the region, I maintain an optimistic outlook. I believe that adversity often serves as a catalyst for innovation and growth.
Farmers are inherently resourceful and adaptable, and these challenges are compelling us to bring out the best of our capabilities. We're embracing our innate spirit of innovation, recognizing that we can enhance efficiency and achieve more with every precious acre foot of water at our disposal.
It's an opportunity for us, as farmers, to showcase our resilience, resourcefulness, and determination. As we navigate the evolving landscape of Pinal County, I remain hopeful that these challenges will help us to achieve greater heights in sustainable agriculture.
Arizona Agriculture: Overall, the future of agriculture in Pinal County has its challenges. Maybe another way to ask the question: What will we see in Pinal County in 10 years on the agriculture front?
England: In the coming decade, agriculture in Pinal County is set to undergo notable changes. Expect to see a shift toward more diverse, high-income crops that use water and acreage more efficiently. Precision farming and sustainability will be paramount, potentially leading to a smaller overall agricultural footprint in the region. Collaboration and research will play a crucial role in navigating these challenges and securing a resilient agricultural future for Pinal County.
Arizona Agriculture: Who have been your greatest mentors and why?
England: Without a doubt, my grandfather stands out as my most cherished mentor. He was not only the finest person I've had the privilege of knowing, but his legacy also casts a long, enduring shadow. His wisdom remains a constant presence in the recesses of my mind, guiding and inspiring me in all that I do.
Arizona Agriculture: You’re a recent graduate of Project CENTRL. What was your biggest takeaway and how do you hope to apply what you learned?
England: Being part of Project Central was truly amazing – one of the best experiences in my life. I felt such a strong bond with my classmates, and I grew personally and professionally in ways I never thought possible. I have a feeling that the folks from Class 31 will be my friends for life.
This program taught me something important: even though I live in a rural part of Arizona, my opinions and voice matter. They gave me the tools and the confidence to make sure my voice is heard where it needs to be. Project Central has been a game-changer, reminding me that no matter where I am, my voice can make a difference.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Arizona Agriculture