Like many cotton growers in Arizona, Rodney and Tiffany Shedd make it work financially through contracts with the various companies looking to increase their seed supplies. In most years Rodney says he likes to split his 500-plus acre farm evenly between Upland cotton and wheat, which he also grows as a test for plant breeders.
While he chooses to not tout his success, Tiffany brags on her husband of nearly 31 years by saying his cotton production average has been among the highest in the state at over four bales on Upland varieties. Sadly, he admits, the variety that helped him achieve his highest success is no longer available.
Rodney says this year's mix of crops is much closer to his goal of 50/50 wheat and cotton. Last year he grew all cotton "because it looked like it was going to be the most profitable at the time."
"I don't know if it was," he admits.
Arizona cotton growers tend to be a nursery for the various cottonseed companies. The seed varieties Shedd grows tend to be produced for cotton farmers in the Southeast United States.
"We have much different growing conditions than they do in the Southeast," he said. "They're breeding it for their cooler, humid weather, but it doesn't always produce the best for us. Still, they need the seed, so we do the seed contracts."
Shedd once grew a different private variety of cotton that was bred more appropriately for the harsh Arizona climate that includes a long, hot growing season punctuated by monsoon rains about midway through the crop season. This variety consistently yielded four-to-five bales, but that too is unavailable.
The Shedd's farm is in central Pinal County, an area of Arizona saddled between Phoenix and Tucson. Aside from the cottonseed contracts, Shedd currently grows an experimental variety of wheat that he suspects may soon be put into production for its low-carb, high-protein characteristics.
The pair met in the second grade at a small elementary school nearby that has long-since been converted to a museum, Tiffany said. They were married in 1989 and immediately began farming the land Rodney's father and grandfather tilled.
Rodney's grandfather Frank Jr. began farming the land after his father, Frank Sr. bought and sold land in the region. Frank Sr. knew a Texas oil baron by the name of Rodney DeLange. Together Frank Sr. and DeLange speculated that the region of the Southwest between Texas and Bakersfield, Calif., must have had oil below the surface, based on maps of existing wells in the region. Historic records suggest the search for oil in the region during the early 20th Century failed to produce the liquid gold.
According to Rodney, his grandfather first began farming the area as a tax write off because DeLange figured farming would be a losing proposition when compared to mining oil. As it turned out, the opposite became the case.
"He actually made money farming for a while," Rodney said.
Tiffany is an agricultural attorney and the founding partner of Shedd Law Firm in Eloy, Ariz., which represents agricultural and corporate clients on issues that include water. For growers in Pinal County, Ariz., water can be a touchy subject as the region is ground-zero in Arizona's fight over the liquid gold.
As Arizona water law was being shaped in the 1970s and 80s, Pinal County growers gave up their access to Central Arizona Project water from Lake Mead in exchange for the ability to pump groundwater based on historic pumping records.
"It's complicated," she says. In the end, growers were capped at how much water they could use, which forced some away from thirsty crops like alfalfa to crops like cotton and wheat in a desert region that typically sees only a few inches of rain annually.
Tiffany says that while Arizonans struggle with water, much like folks elsewhere in the West, one of the more amazing things she and others in the Grand Canyon State see is how Californians lose more water to the ocean because of environmental laws than Arizonans have access to on an annual basis.
"It's just so sad that they're kind of having that war on agriculture in California because it's the most amazing production state when it comes to agriculture," she said.
As if farming and running a law firm are not enough, the Shedd family owns a shooting range, which was fortuitous for their oldest daughter when she was in high school. Now an Ag education major at the University of Arizona, Summer looks back on winning the state championship in shooting during high school rodeo competition.
With those wins came several trophy saddles that are displayed in the Shedd's living room.
"We have six saddles and no horses," Tiffany joked.
Rather than barrel racing or other facets of high school rodeo sports, Summer competed in shooting contests that saw her slowly rise through the ranks. After placing fifth in overall standings as a high school sophomore, a chance opportunity arose as the student in first place opted not to go to national competition. This left an opening for Summer as the top four contestants get to compete nationally.
"I thought it was fun to just shoot some scores, so I practiced all summer and happened to tie for third," she said.
After the shooting win, and because she had been around rodeo sports in high school, Summer transitioned to rodeo photography.
The Shedds also have two other children, Steven, 24, who is in law school at the University of Arizona, and Samantha, 13, who is home schooled.
After serving agricultural clients in her law firm for over 20 years and farming 30-plus years, Tiffany is working to unseat current Arizona Congressman Tom O'Halleran for the Arizona District One seat. She ran once before in 2018 but lost in the Republican primary.
"I think we need better representation," she said. "Agriculture is a top priority for me."
Arizona's first congressional district covers over 58,000 square miles of land from just north of Tucson to Utah and New Mexico. Aside from a considerable percentage of Arizona's agricultural production, the district is home to 10 American Indian tribes, including the Navajo Nation, and natural resources that include copper, coal, and helium mines. On agriculture she says she hopes to partner with others in Congress to garner political support for Arizona agriculture on national policy issues including the Farm Bill.
"We've been blessed out West to have Mike Conaway from Texas as our champion on agriculture and Farm Bill issues," she said. "But he's retiring at the end of his term and knows how important agriculture is in the West. That's why he's supporting me."