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Guayule is a woody desert shrub native to Mexico and the Southwest.

Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor

April 21, 2022

4 Min Read
Young guayule plants mature under a warm desert sun near the central Arizona community of Eloy. The native plant is being studied for its ability to produce natural rubber. Bridgestone is contracting with several Arizona farmers to grow the crop as it plans to open a processing plant in central Arizona in 2027.Todd Fitchette

A tire company may have found a win-win for farmers and their domestic supply chain needs.

Bridgestone began working to shore up its domestic supply of natural rubber about a decade ago. The idea isn't new. The U.S. produced guayule (pronounced why-u-lee) at the Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp near Independence, California during World War II.

Guayule is a woody desert shrub native to Mexico and the Southwest U.S. Bridgestone is growing the perennial crop on its 300-acre research ranch near Eloy, Arizona as it looks ahead to multiple processing plants across the Southwest. The first processing facility could open in 2027 in Pinal County. The company is contracting with several Arizona farmers to produce guayule as it looks to help growers understand agronomic aspects of the crop.

The need for a domestic supply of natural rubber is twofold, according to David Dierig, section manager for agricultural operations at the Guayule Research Farm. Supply chain difficulties threaten import of natural rubber from Southeast Asia, the only spot in the world where the rubber tree is grown; and disease issues in those trees continues to limit yield output, further compounding the supply.

Related: U.S. source for natural rubber is potential farm opportunity

Dierig says the history behind Bridgestone's quest to understand guayule came in 2012 when the price of natural rubber soared to record prices. "That got Bridgestone's attention," he said. "We thought if we had a supplement to the supply that comes out of Southeast Asia that would be beneficial for us."

The win for Arizona farmers who now grow cotton and forage crops they must sell on the open market is in the contract and how Bridgestone works with growers. Bridgestone makes it relatively simple for farmers by providing the seed and handling harvest. Farmers simply manage the crop, which for the most part is to irrigate it. Dierig says once the plant begins to develop, natural compounds in it tend to repel insects.

There is a significant time commitment to guayule. Unlike cotton or alfalfa, guayule takes two years from planting to first harvest. Plants are cut at the ground at harvest and allowed to regrow over the next two years. Dierig says it is unknown just how many times a Guayule plant can be cut and allowed to regrow before needing to be replanted.

At Bridgestone's research farm the plants are grown on 40-inch beds with furrow irrigation. Studies are beginning to test the crop's ability to succeed on drip irrigation. Current estimates suggest that guayule can be grown on about 3.5 acre-feet of water in central Arizona.

Stanfield-area cotton farmer Will Thelander is growing Guayule on contract with Bridgestone. As an early adopter, he sees value in the crop for his area.

"There's really a lot of potential for that crop because it's a desert crop," he said. "It doesn't want much water."


Bridgestone was recently awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand its natural rubber research. The DOE Joint Genome Institute Research Grant seeks to sequence and map genes from three guayule varieties to optimize rubber yield. Field tests will be conducted at the company's Eloy research farm and at locations across Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Italy, according to a company statement.

Bridgestone continues to learn about the crop as it partners with the University of Arizona to study the desert shrub. Dierig says the plant appears to do better in well-drained soils. The clay soils they have at the research farm tend to better harbor disease issues. While sandier soils can help mitigate disease pressure, these soils also require more water to irrigate the crop, he said.


Bridgestone plans to have its first commercial-scale guayule processing plant completed in 2027. The intent is to contract for 20,000 acres of guayule by then and expand to 100,000 acres of guayule shortly thereafter. The facility will be built with expansion in mind, starting with a single processing line. Three additional lines will be added to the facility as crop acreage grows.

The business model of contracting with growers eliminates the burden of them having to harvest then sell their crop. Bridgestone will be a steady customer and partner with the farmers, he said.

Related: Tire company raising rubber in the desert

Bridgestone sees this as part of its commitment to be completely sustainable and use 100% renewable materials by 2050. The company has already spent over $100 million in its efforts to commercialize guayule. In 2015 the company produced its first tire from guayule-derived rubber as it continues to expand its molecular breeding program for the plant.

Farmers interested in learning more about guayule and in working with Bridgestone can contact David Dierig at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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