How Pinal County farmers are dealing with historic cuts to Arizona’s Colorado River water supply

While Arizona lost 18% of it’s share in 2022, it’s expected to lose an additional 3% in 2023.
One farmer tells Arizona's Family that had to cut summer cropping back by 50%. Experts worry it could lead to higher food prices.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 6:26 AM MST
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CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (3TV/CBS 5) - Farming thousands of acres of alfalfa, Bermuda grass, and more, isn’t just a job for Jace Miller: it’s in his blood.

“My great-great-grandfather came and homesteaded in gilbert in 1919 and began farming,” Miller said. He’s a 5th generation farmer in Arizona and the partner and manager of Triple M Farms. Arizona’s Family recently visited the headquarters in Casa Grande to see how Miller is weathering historic cuts to the state’s Colorado River water supply.

“In 2021, it was growing a lush beautiful cotton crop. Now it’s growing weeds,” Miller said at one of his operations in Eloy.

Miller has had to cut summer cropping back by 50%. In addition to more expensive fuel and fertilizer, it ultimately means you’re food will cost more. Miller says the average price for a bale of hay is around $13 or $14, but now it’s $20.

This comes as a new legislative session begins in Arizona with a renewed interest in water policy.

“Absolutely we’re going to be looking at additional cuts,” said Chelsea McGuire, the director of government relations with the Arizona Farm Bureau.

McGuire says farmers in Arizona can grow crops you can’t find anywhere else, but there are clear challenges. While central Arizona farmers lost their access to Colorado River water, McGuire says in Yuma farmers are finding ways to grow with less water. At the state Capitol, McGuire says her biggest focus is education and explaining to lawmakers what the agriculture industry does with water. “You know it’s really easy to look at the statistics of the state and say, ‘wow AG uses more than 70% of our water. Isn’t that where we should be looking to cut our water use?’ Well you have to remember what agriculture does with that water and that water use is not water waste,” she said. It’s used to create food and fiber to feed families, McGuire added.

“It hurts your pride. You take a lot of pride in the products your produce and the land that you cultivate,” Miller said.

2023 comes with new concerns and while winter is a slower season, Miller hopes they don’t have to go down this road. “We have not had to sell off any equipment or lay off any employees, but that is that is a card that is on the table if things don’t improve we may have to downsize our operation.”

Water crisis aside, this a job miller looks forward to every day. “I guess the best description is its pure bliss. To me, it’s not a job. It’s not even a career it’s a lifestyle.”