Farmer Nancy Caywood stands in what once was an alfalfa field. The land is now fallow after her farm was cut off from accessing water from the San Carlos reservoir.
Emma Newburger | CNBC
CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — On the drought-stricken land where Pinal County farmers have irrigated crops for thousands of years, Nancy Caywood stopped her pickup truck along an empty canal and pointed to a field of dead alfalfa.
“It’s heart wrenching,” said Caywood, a third-generation farmer who manages 247 acres of property an hour outside of Phoenix. “My mom and dad toiled the land for so many years, and now we might have to give it up.”
Farming in the desert has always been a challenge for Arizona’s farmers, who grow water-intensive crops like cotton, alfalfa and corn for cows. But this year is different. An intensifying drought and declining reservoir levels across the Western U.S. prompted the first-ever cuts to their water supply from the Colorado River.
The canals that would normally bring water from an eastern Arizona reservoir to Caywood’s family farm have mostly dried up. The farm will soon be operating at less than half of its usual production. And Caywood is grappling with a recent 33% price hike for water she’s not receiving.
“We’re not making one dime off this farm right now,” Caywood said. “But we’re trying to hang on because this is what we love.”
More than 40 million people in the West rely on the Colorado River, which flows along Arizona’s western edge. The farmers hit the hardest this year are in Pinal County, a rural stretch of land where agriculture is receding and slowly getting replaced by solar panels and housing developments.
An empty irrigation canal runs along an alfalfa field owned by Caywood Farms, a cotton farm near Casa Grande, Arizona.
Emma Newburger | CNBC
Driving through Casa Grande, a city of 55,000 people that’s about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, you’ll see miles of unplanted land, dead cotton fields and dry canals.
Farmers here fear additional water…
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