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Drought taking a toll on Arizona farmers and ranchers

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

PHOENIX – Arizona is entering another year of a drought. With no relief in sight, farmers and ranchers are having to find ways to deal with it.

Stefanie Smallhouse, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said the drought has lasted for about 20 years now, and farmers and ranchers have learned to handle it differently.

This year, she expects to see some ranchers selling their cattle because their land is too dry to feed on.

“There are other ranchers in Arizona that will move their cattle completely out of Arizona to other states to be fed,” Smallhouse said.

Arizona is facing its 21st year of a long-term drought, according to the Arizona State Climate Office.

Several reservoirs, such as Lakes Mead and Powell, provide water supply to the state during dry years. Currently, the reservoirs in the Southwest are about half full and are supplying water to an increasing population.

Many farmers get their water from various sources, including through the Central Arizona Project. But with drought conditions continuing to get worse, water is getting harder to come by.

Smallhouse said some farmers are facing water distribution cuts this summer, meaning they’ll get lower levels of water.

As a result, they’re having to decide if they’re going to plant in certain fields and what crops they can grow.

“Overall, we had very little winter moisture to contribute to our lakes and infrastructure for irrigation,” Smallhouse said. “That’s really what’s going to be a problem in this planting season for farmers.

“They’re just not going to have the water deliveries that they have had in the past.”

Smallhouse said if the state doesn’t see significant levels of rain soon, “there definitely will likely be further liquidation this year” for farmers and ranchers.

“We have some relief now and again in the last few years. We’ve had a couple of wet years, which is helpful,” she said. “But in the long-term, I think ranchers and farmers are just trying to plan for the ups and downs.”

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