When someone mentions business, rarely does it evoke images of hay fields, Holstein cows, cotton fields, chickens and melons. Yet even in a technology-driven, mostly urban modern society, agriculture is big business in Arizona.
The state agriculture industry is worth $17.1 billion, according to the Arizona Farm Bureau. In 2016, the Grand Canyon State had more than 19,000 farm operations on almost 26 million acres, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. For more than 13,000 residents, farming is their primary occupation.
Here are some additional facts that help demonstrate the importance of agriculture for the state’s economy:
- More than 197,000 acres are planted in cotton.
- Arizona dairy farmers have nearly 200,000 cows producing 4.79 billion pounds of milk annually.
- Arizona farms produce about 2.6 million tons of hay each year, worth nearly $400 million.
- In 2017, the state has 970,000 cattle, 130,000 sheep and 115,000 hogs and 62,000 goats.
- More than 130,000 acres are allocated to growing vegetables.
- Corn is grown on 95,000 acres.
- Arizona farmers produce more than 1.3 million boxes of lemons annually.
Something else unique about agriculture is the deep connection farmers and ranchers feel with their profession. There are not many businesses where the owners demonstrate such passion and commitment.
“We love our cows. We love animals in general, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to be in this business,” explains Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman, dairy nutritionist at Rio Blanco Dairy in Maricopa. She says the work is demanding, unpredictable, and the return is not always what they hope it would be. “We have years where we risk losing everything we have for these animals. We do this for our love of animals.”
Those comments are echoed by Paul Rovey, owner of Rovey Dairy.
“Dairying is a great way of life. It’s sometimes hard and sometimes challenging, but it’s also very rewarding,” Rovey said.
It is also constantly changing and requires being able to adapt to changing conditions.
“Glendale, when I started dairying here, literally was miles away from us,” Rovey said. “That city has grown to where they basically encompass us. We are doing our farming and dairying inside the city.”
Craig Caballero, president of Arizona Milk Producers/Dairy Council and vice president of United Dairyman of Arizona, believes farms have to change with the times.
“We are in a time period where the most adaptive agribusiness farms survive,” Caballero said. “You have to always be willing to re-evaluate what you are doing. And because we are in this global economy … you have to always be thinking about the possibilities of change.”
One misconception some people have about cows is that they are routinely given antibiotics.
“We only treat our cows with antibiotics when they come down with an illness that antibiotics will cure. We follow the federal guidelines and they must be prescribed by our veterinarian,” said dairy owner Bill Kerr of Buckeye. “Per strict USDA regulations, that milk is dumped while the cow is being treated and never enters the milk supply for consumption. Our cows are part of our family. We treat them with the utmost care and respect.”
One way to support Arizona’s farmers is to buy locally sourced goods. Doing so doesn’t just help the farmers, it provides a boost to the statewide economy. According to Local First Arizona, even if a community the size of Tucson shifted 10 percent of its spending from nonlocal to local businesses, the shift would create 1,600 new jobs, produce $53 million in new wages and have $130 million in total economic impact.
As long as people keep eating, agriculture will continue to be a critically important industry in Arizona and across the globe.
The Arizona Milk Producers are on a mission to promote good health and nutrition by highlighting the people (and cows ) that make it all happen. Find out more about these amazing modern day dairy farmers here.
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Arizona Milk Producers is a non-profit nutrition education organization whose mission is to contribute to the achievement of optimal health for all Arizonans by providing leadership in nutrition education based on the concept of a balanced diet, including milk and milk products, in accordance with scientific recommendation.