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Pinal County farm finding new ways to survive the drought

Western Drought Colorado River
Posted at 6:56 PM, Aug 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 12:46:46-04

CASA GRANDE, AZ — Whenever clouds form in the distance, Nancy Caywood can't help but get excited.

"If we got some good rains in here, that would go ahead and green up," she told ABC15 while showing us around her family farm.

Caywood Farms in Casa Grande has been in her family since the 1930s.

For most of that time, they grew cotton. More recently alfalfa has been the main crop along with barley.

Caywood says the drought is making it hard to grow anything.

"The dam has no water in it right now. So we have not seen water on this field, other than rain, since late May," she added.

Caywood's farm gets its water from the San Carlos irrigation and drainage district.

Supplied by the Gila River, the water is stored in San Carlos lake behind the Coolidge dam which is southeast of Globe.

The lake often becomes dry for a few months out of the year, but as the drought drags on it's getting drier much earlier.

"I drive around, and I look at empty canals. Literally, I burst into tears over it a couple of times, because I'm thinking it's just such a hopeless situation," she said.

But it wasn't always this way.

"We are a five-generation farm. So, my granddad farmed it until the 60s. He gifted it to my parents," she said.

The nearly 260 acres have been in her family for almost 100 years. Today, her son continues that legacy, but this year he's having to do it about five miles down the road from their land.

It's land that they lease to grow Sudan Grass because it actually has some water coming to it.

The crop is used for livestock feed. They've gotten one cutting this year and are hoping for at least one more.

They also lease additional land in Coolidge, the Caywoods say they are not turning a profit.

Their water is tied to their taxes and costs them more than $19,000 a year whether they receive water or not.

"And the purpose for that is to pay back the cost of the dam from almost 100 years ago, and to pay for upkeep and maintenance on the canals," she said.

So, Caywood is leasing land to pay for water and taxes on the land that they own. "We can have a lien put on the place. And we could lose it. And it concerns us all the time," she said.

Problem is that the leased land gets Colorado River water which is being cut drastically every year.

It's a situation that has forced her family to get creative in what they do on their farm. So, while her son leases land Caywood has become a tour guide.

"I believe in popcorn, fiddles, and hayrides," she said.

Caywood Farms has become something of a destination in Pinal County. Caywood plays the fiddle, pops popcorn, and takes visitors on a hayride around the property on a tractor that she drives.

"I take them out to the field, I show them our farm history," she said.

It's a history that Caywood and her family are fighting to keep alive for as long as they can.

"I don't know how much longer we can hang in there. And we're not making any profit. I know people think that's just crazy and it is," she said.

Why do we hang in there? We hang in there because we are optimistic that in the future, we will have water, that prices will level out, maybe even go down and we'll be producing again."