Arizona officials enraged over farmland purchases by Saudi Arabia to grow hay

Jan 22, 2016, 10:00 AM
(AP Photo/John Locher)...
(AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

PHOENIX — In a recent trend, Saudi Arabia has been purchasing farmland in Arizona and California in order to grow and export quality alfalfa hay, a move that has several Arizona officials up in arms over.

According to CNBC, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries have been purchasing land in parts of the drought-stricken Southwest, including Arizona and California.

On Sunday, Saudi-based Fondomonte California announced it bought 1,790 acres of farmland in Blythe, California, for $32 million.

According to state documents, at least 23 water wells capable of pumping more than 100,000 gallons a day are on the lands owned by Saudi-based Fondomonte Arizona.

Michelle Moreno, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said companies can use as much water as needed.

“You can use as much water as you’d like, as long as it’s put to a beneficial use, and you’re not required to report your water use,” she said in an interview with CNBC.

Keith Murfield, CEO of the Tempe-based dairy cooperative United Dairymen of Arizona, said Saudi Arabia’s growth of hay is the equivalent to exporting water overseas.

“They have decided that it’s better to bring feed in rather than to empty their water reserves,” he said in an interview with CNBC. “This will continue unless there’s regulations put on it.”

The county grows alfalfa hay in Arizona and California to ship back to its own dairy herds and to save their own water reserves, according to the article.

Saudi Arabia’s latest purchase in Arizona involved 10,000 acres of farmland near Vicksburg, Arizona, for $48 million nearly two years ago. The purchase was made by Saudi food giant Almarai.

La Paz County Board of Supervisors Chairman Holly Irwin said the states should not allow the country to use precious resources for free.

“We’re not getting oil for free, so why are we giving our water away for free?” she said in an interview with CNBC. “We’re letting them come over here and use up our resources. I have residents telling me that their wells are going dry and they have to dig a lot deeper for water. It’s costly for them to drill new wells.”

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Arizona officials enraged over farmland purchases by Saudi Arabia to grow hay