CASA GRANDE — As the housing market in Casa Grande and Pinal County picks up and water allotments get smaller, the pressure to sell land is growing on Pinal farmers.
“It all comes down to location as to what is developed first,” said Richie Kennedy, second vice president of the Pinal County Farm Bureau. Kennedy has farms and feedlots in both Maricopa and Pinal counties, and leases some of his land from a developer who is waiting for the housing market to bounce back further before starting construction.
However, the city of Casa Grande has thousands of residential lots in platted subdivisions that have been waiting to be developed since the housing market crash in 2008.
Some developers have leased the land back to the farmers who sold it to them. This gives crop and dairy farmers a chance to keep working the land while the property owner gets a tax break, Kennedy said. Property that is used for agricultural purposes is taxed at a lower rate than other property.
But that may be changing soon. According to the city of Casa Grande, 430 single-family home construction permits have been issued this year since Aug. 31. Last year during the same time period, the city issued 132 permits.
Kennedy said most of the developers he’s worked with have given him more than enough time to wind down his work before moving him off the property so they can start construction.
But even with the increase in housing starts in Casa Grande, Kennedy thinks it may be a while before local farmers and dairies are asked to move. He believes more industry, like Lucid Motors, will need to move into the area and create new jobs before the local housing market starts to really take off again.
Pat Dugan of Du-Brook Dairy on Overfield Road agrees. His property was annexed into the city limits of Casa Grande a few years ago, after the PhoenixMart project was announced. He owns the land that his dairy sits on but nearly all of the land around him has been plotted for development. He has yet to see any major moves toward developing the land. But he knows that it will come eventually.
Dugan, a fourth-generation farmer, isn’t concerned about new development moving in next door. He’s seen it all before. His family used to have a dairy in Chandler. As developers started moving in in the early 1980s, Dugan and his brothers moved their business to the Casa Grande area, where the land was cheaper and they could expand. He’s prepared to move again if things get too crowded.
Nancy Caywood of Caywood Farms is not moving. She is a third-generation farmer. Her family has been farming land in Pinal County since the 1920s. She grew up on Caywood Farm and left to pursue a career in teaching that ended in a master’s degree in agricultural education and a position at the University of California’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Division.
Her son Travis and his family now work the farm while Nancy and her husband, both now retired, host tours and run educational programs there. Caywood said she isn’t against development but is concerned about how quickly land is being developed in Pinal County.
“I believe we need to step back and take a breath,” Caywood said of all the development that has come and is planned in her area. Her farm is bordered by a large solar farm.
She has concerns that additional homes and industry in the area could draw down the county’s water resources even further and cause more farmers to sell their land.
Without local farmers, people may have to depend on other countries for their food, which could lead to food safety problems and high prices due to tariffs, she said.
Caywood said her family plans to stick it out even if other farms in the area change into housing developments.
“I hope we’re always here,” she said.