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Earth Day 2010: How Some Arizona Farmers Celebrate Every Day!

April 22, 2010

Buying locally grown produce is earth friendly. Check out the u-pick garden at Schnepf Farms. Photo credit: Foskett Photography

Most Americans celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd. Farmers and ranchers celebrate Earth Day every day.

Agriculturalists grow and raise renewable commodities 365 days a year in a manner that protects the land and promotes conservation.

“Farmers and ranchers are used to carefully considering all of their input costs in farming operations. This includes our energy costs,” says Arizona Farm Bureau Vice President Tim Dunn and Yuma produce grower.  “As a result, whatever we can do to minimize those costs helps us to improve our bottom line and conserve for the future. Because of this we preserve our land and promote conservation for future generations.

Consider …

The Very Act of Agriculture

In agriculturally-dominated parts of the state, the very act of agriculture demonstrates farming practices are renewable.

Arizona agriculture is the premier business of converting sunlight into energy for all crops grown in this state and across the country. Apache, Cochise, Coconino, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties are all counties where you can observe this especially since Arizona has a year-around growing season.

“Acres of green fields are the original solar panels,” says Yuma grower Terry T. Easterday of Easterday Farms.  “The added value from agriculture is that the sun’s energy can be converted into many different usable products, allowing for more options for its storage and transport to the end user.”

Easterday points to another very common practice in agriculture. “When we utilize crop residues and manure in our growing programs, we are taking a waste product and converting it back into another usable food or fiber. When I see a green field, I see the sun and plants at work, improving our air quality and storing the sun’s energy for our future use.”

Casting for fresh shrimp at Desert Sweet Shrimp in Gila Bend, Arizona.

Geothermal and Water Conservation

Gary Wood of Desert Sweet Shrimp in Gila Bend and an Arizona Farm Bureau member, uses geothermal energy for his operation. “My use of geothermal energy is minimal because of the size of my operation,” says Wood. “I have taken advantage of it for my nursery ponds from time to time and it works really well. If someone was dealing with only small ponds and they were covered, the use of geothermal energy could be put to use very effectively.”

Additionally, the Arizona shrimp farm, in conjunction with the University of Arizona, designed a plot of 120 olive trees, spaced along 10 rows. From the shrimp pond, they irrigated the olive saplings. Their research showed effluent-treated trees from the shrimp pond grew larger than well-watered trees, supplying saplings with 1.6 to 5.6 kilograms of nitrogen per row from the shrimp waste.

In the second year, they met the full nitrogen recommendation for olive trees. They’re using the nitrogen and phosphorus in the waste from the shrimp to replace the nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers that farmers would otherwise have to buy. The research project supplied close to 100 percent of nutrients needed for the trees.

Wood, the shrimp farm’s owner, continues to irrigate olive trees as well as alfalfa fields from his shrimp pond, which is fed by well water. They’re quite diversified as they produce shrimp, olive oil and natural grass-fed beef. They are also working on developing biofuels.

Hickman’s Fine Fertilizers

If you want to discover a family farm that is end-to-end so to speak you need go no further than Hickman Family Farms. Known for producing millions of eggs daily on their farms, the Hickman family constructed a fertilizer manufacturing facility to produce fertilizer from their chicken waste to sell to other agriculture operations and golf courses. They produce pelletized chicken manure and pelletized compost material for golf courses and organic vegetable growers.

The Hickman’s are so bullish on recycling that they even reuse their wash water in the composting process.

Says the family, Hickman’s Family Farms is committed to being “green,” or environmentally efficient. It’s no secret that chickens produce manure, and the family continues to develop ways for everything associated with their chickens to be used or recycled.

The fertilizer division provides technical support and information through a number of venues.

One Farm’s Quest to Use Renewable Energy

Back in 2005, one of Arizona’s most well-known farm operations went not only green but also renewable. Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek, Arizona, began purchasing “renewable energy” to operate their business. In a partnership with SRP’s EarthWise Energy program, Schnepf Farms, in their news releases, believed their effort to be “the first business in the state and one of the first farms in the country.”

Back then, Mark Schnepf, 3rd generation farmer and owner said, “We have been inviting people to visit our family farm for over 50 years and now when they visit, they will know that everything we provide for them on the farm is organically grown, operated by renewable energy and backed by power that is the cleanest for our environment. We wanted to take our operation a step further and invest in clean renewable energy.”

The purchase of renewable energy through the SRP EarthWise Energy Program comes from a diverse mix of local renewable energy sources including solar, wind, landfill gas, geothermal and low head hydro. The energy produced is sent to SRP’s main system, where it becomes part of the primary energy supply for customers.

Although purchasing of “green power” is more expensive, “it is worth it,” says Carrie Schnepf, co-owner.

Currently the Schnepf’s purchase approximately 186-thousand kilowatt-hours of green power a month to operate their farm.

The stories above are just a few examples of the countless ways agriculturalists are celebrating Earth Day every day. For more stories, contact Julie Murphree at (480) 635-3607 or email her at juliemurphree@azfb.org.

Some Earth-Day Farm Facts:

  • Farmers and ranchers are the first environmentalists, maintaining and improving the soil and natural resources to pass on to future generations. Arizona counts in its farm family ranks, third, fourth, fifth and even sixth generation farmers and ranchers. This is sustainability.
  • Farmers use reduced tillage practices on more than 72 million acres to prevent erosion.
  • Farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways, allowing water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil.
  • Contour farming, planting crops on hillsides instead of up and down, keeps soil from washing away. About 26 million acres in the United States are managed this way.
  • Cattle ranchers and others control water run-off with sod waterways and diversions, erosion control structures and catch basins.
  • Just as urban families recycle grass, newspaper and aluminum, farm families have practiced recycling for a long time by applying manure to fields to replace nutrients in the soil.
  • Agricultural land provides habitat for 75 percent of the nation’s wildlife.

About Arizona Farm Bureau

The Arizona Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and improving the Agriculture industry through member involvement in education, political activities, programs and services. As a member services organization, individuals can become a member by contacting the Farm Bureau. Go to www.azfb.org to learn more.

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