Only a painted concrete block wall and a dirt road separate the Pacheco family’s farm shop and equipment shed from a spanking new subdivision of stucco-based tile-roofed houses next door - about 100 feet apart to be precise.
Despite the closeness between the still rural yet urbanizing town of Marana, Ariz. and the family’s agricultural enterprise, Dan Pacheco keeps hard at work managing the almost 1,600 acre operation.
On this early September day, he worked hard leveling the spindle bars on a red-paint (Case) cotton picker as the cotton harvest loomed.
Pacheco is the farm manager for Pacheco Farm Management & Consulting Company, a farm started by his grandfather Arthur Pacheco decades ago. The farming elder’s two sons – Lyall and Patrick (the latter Dan’s father) – followed in his footsteps, and Dan works hard to keep up with the daily chores.
Today, Dan, 41, handles the day-to-day operations. He and his wife Marie have two boys, Austin and William, ages 17 and 14 respectively.
Marana is quickly morphing from its farming and copper mining heritage into a bedroom community for nearby Tucson, the nation’s 32th largest city, according to 2009 statistics.
Pacheco hopped into his pickup for the short drive to a field of Deltapine 1321 B2RF cotton which stood tall in the hot 100 degree (Fahrenheit) Arizona sun, soaking up the moisture-laden air from the summer monsoon (rainy) season.
Dan is proud of the family’s farming success over the decades, tied closely to operating in a fiscally conservative manner.
“We are very conservative with our operation (cost-wise) and do all the work ourselves,” Pacheco said. “We wear all the hats. We do everything ourselves - farming, mechanic work, tissue sampling, and bookwork.”
This is truly an amazing fete, given the farm’s large acreage. It includes 765 acres of Upland cotton grown for seed, 767 acres of Desert durum wheat, and 332 acres planted in grain sorghum. The latter two are double cropped.
“Our banker says we operate in the black every year,” Pacheco said with a proud grin, noting not every farmer can say that.
“Farmers can’t control (crop) prices so our philosophy is to spend money wisely. We’ve always operated in the black and never carried a loss to the next year.”
The Pacheco’s original farmstead was a meager 90 acres and grew over the years to about 2,500 acres. Then urban sprawl cast its net on Marana.
Long gone are the homes occupied by copper miners who worked in the nearby Sawtooth Mountains. Agricultural land is continuously sold for development.
Despite the urban influx, the Pachecos continue to produce food and fiber. Knowing their farming days are likely limited in this area, their passion for agriculture runs through their veins.
Diehard cotton farmers
Diehard cotton farmers, the Pachecos last year planted 1,000 acres of Upland cotton (75 percent for seed and the 25 percent balance for fiber). This year, they planned to substantially reduce the acreage until Monsanto offered them Upland seed contracts with prices too sweet to pass up.
Pacheco said, “The seed contracts are a big reason we are still growing cotton today.”
One-hundred percent of this year’s cotton crop is grown for seed – a first for the Pachecos. The Monsanto varieties include Deltapine 0935 B2RF variety, Deltapine 1219 B2RF, Deltapine 1321 B2RF, and Deltapine 1522 B2XF. The farm includes the winter nursery variety Deltapine 14R913 B2XF.
Pacheco, like other cotton growers, is fully aware of the ups and downs in the industry, noting Upland’s 60-cent-per-pound price range much of this year. He reveled and reflected on the $1.20 price range paid a handful of years ago.
Bullish or bearish?
Pacheco was asked whether he is bullish or bearish on the future of cotton. He tempered his answer with a brief silence.
Pacheco had met with an insurance agent at 7 a.m. day regarding recent hail damage in the cotton delivered by a late August monsoon storm. The adjuster had estimated a 20 percent crop loss on 170 acres on one farm site.
The farmer added, “Cotton has always been a staple of our operation but I don’t see the (low) price changing much for the better in the short term.”
He discussed huge stockpiles of cotton in China – the largest cotton producer and user in the world - and the country’s lack of interest in importing much cotton, including from the U.S.
Pacheco-grown cotton is harvested in October and ginned at the Sunshine Gin in Eloy, and marketed by Handwerker-Winburne, Inc. in Peoria, located near Phoenix.
Texas root rot
On the production side, cotton diseases and pests are on the Pachecos’ radar screen, including the fungal disease Texas root rot (TRR). If TRR has its way, Pacheco said, “Texas root rot can take a potential 1,200-pound-per-acre yield and turn it into 600 pounds.”
“With Texas root rot, we can’t push for five bale production. We tend to average about 2.5 bales.”
The Pacheco farm is where the University of Arizona’s Randy Norton and Mark Siemens are conducting fungicide trails to try to gain improved TRR control in cotton.
Overall, lygus is the main cotton pest on the farm. Pacheco says usually a single spray of Transform rotated with Carbine is the most effective lygus insecticide treatment.
On the durum wheat side, the family grows the Kronos variety – planted in January and harvested in June - with yields from 4,500 pounds to 7,500 pounds per acre.
“With Kronos, it’s easier for us to reach the protein quantity we need at 13 percent,” Pacheco said.
Russian thistle is the top weed threat for the Pacheco’s wheat crop which can “clog-up a combine.”
In early August, the durum price averaged about $9 per hundredweight (Cwt.), down from about $17 per Cwt. this past spring.
The wheat is grown under contract for Arizona Grain.
For grain sorghum, the crop is planted in July after the wheat with harvest starting in early-to-mid November. Yields average about 5,000 pounds per acre in the farm’s sandier soils closer to the Santa Cruz River and about 10,000 pounds in heavier soil.
Irrigation water for each crop is either surface water from the Colorado River (60 percent) delivered by the Central Arizona Project. The 40 percent balance is groundwater.
Pacheco has a wide background of rural experience. He graduated from Project CENTRL’s XVIII Class in 2009, Arizona’s esteemed agricultural leadership program. This summer, he traveled to Georgia to learn about Southeast cotton production as part of the National Cotton Council’s Producer Information Exchange (or PIE) tour.
He has been active in Farm Bureau, serving previously as the organization’s Pima County president and on the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation (AzFB) board, both simultaneously. As the Pima County leader, he launched a collegiate agricultural scholarship program which continues today.
Today, he serves on the AzFB state cotton advisory committee and as the Pima County Farm Bureau treasurer.
As Pacheco slipped back behind his truck’s steering wheel, he discussed his own future in agriculture, given continued urban sprawl.
“My time around this area as a farmer is very limited,” he said. “I have enough agricultural knowledge that I could move into agriculture somewhere else if needed, yet I’d love to stay here as long as I can.”
No matter what happens, Pacheco is proud of his family heritage and his role as a farmer.
“I’m proud to continue my family’s farming heritage. I believe farming is a very honorable trade and I’m proud to be part of it.”