ELOY — With researchers learning more about growing guayule as a crop, area field day events aim to keep area growers up-to-date on the latest information.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension program on Oct. 6 held its third guayule field day event at the Bridgestone research field in Eloy, giving area growers access to experts in the industry.
“As research continues we get a better picture of not only how to economically grow guayule, but also what the future holds for commercial production,” said Blase Evancho, a staffer with the Cooperative Extension program in Pinal County. “Our field days showcase some of the research and advancements that Bridgestone, UA Extension and the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions Center of Excellence, or SBAR, have made toward making guayule economically viable.”
Guayule (pronounced why-oo-lee) is a small shrub native to the region. It’s a rich source of rubber as well as ethanol, non-toxic adhesives and other materials.
For years, tire-maker Bridgestone has been researching the woody shrub on a 300-acre farm on Harmon Road in Eloy. The company has been producing test tires made from guayule-derived natural rubber since 2015.
The company hopes to soon begin recruiting other growers to plant different varieties of the shrub for further research.
“Guayule is a desert shrub that produces natural rubber and requires fewer inputs than our traditional summer crop production systems here in Arizona,” Evancho said. “This includes less water, pesticide and fertilizer. However, if a crop doesn’t prove to be economically viable, there is no reason to grow it.”
The tire company believes guayule could be the foundation of a new sustainable farm economy in Pinal County, reducing water demand while keeping irrigated land in production.
Bridgestone Operations Manager Dave Dierig told PinalCentral in August that he believes many growers will be excited to plant the crop. Eventually, he would like to see thousands of acres of guayule growing throughout Pinal County and in other areas.
“I don’t expect guayule will replace cotton in Pinal County, but it would be a great replacement for other high-water-use crops. And it’s an easy crop to grow,” he said.
Growers who visit the guayule field day events tour the research fields and learn more about the Bridgestone research project. They also receive information about planting, irrigating and managing a guayule crop as well as how to identify diseases and other potential issues such as the pale-striped flea beetle — a tiny, hopping insect that can damage the shrub.
Growers also have the chance to talk with others who have planted and harvested the crop.
“We encourage growers and ag support industry employees to join us for these events and learn more about this crop and opportunities to grow it in the near future,” Evancho said.
Those who missed the event may contact Evancho at 520-836-5221 for more information.