Arizona’s Governor, Katie Hobbs, is terminating controversial leases with a Saudi-owned company leasing Alfalfa farmland in Arizona.
Fondomonte Arizona, LLC leases four farms on state trust land in La Paz County. The company has been accused of draining some of the state’s precious water resources. After an inspection revealed violations to the state’s lease agreements dating back to 2016, Hobbs said the state would be terminating four leases and not renewing the other three.
“I’m not afraid to do what my predecessors refused to do — hold people accountable, maximize value for the state land trust, and protect Arizona’s water future,” Hobbs said in the statement. “It’s unacceptable that Fondomonte has continued to pump unchecked amounts of groundwater out of our state while in clear default on their lease.”
Fondomonte told KJZZ News that they do not believe their lease should be terminated and were working with the Governor’s Office to resolve the issue.
“We believe the state is mistaken that the company is in breach of its lease,” the statement said. “As for the other leases the state intends to not renew, this would set a dangerous precedent for all farmers on state land leases, including being extremely costly to the state and Arizona taxpayers. Fondomonte will explore all avenues to ensure there is no discrimination or unfair treatment.”
Arizona’s alfalfa yields are some of the highest in the world — the state produces an average of 8.3 tons of alfalfa per acre in comparison to the national average of 3.2 tons. State 48’s climate means that they can produce eight to 10 cuttings per year, but while the state has plenty of sunshine days (generally around 300), water is a precious commodity there.
Arizona has been renting approximately thousands of acres of state trust land in La Paz County to a Saudi Arabian-owned farm named Fondomonte Alfalfa Farm for $25 per acre (about one-sixth of the market price). The problem? The Arizona State Land Department hasn’t offered any transparency as to why they’ve issued this “sweetheart” of a deal.
Fondomonte grows the alfalfa and then exports it to feed dairy cattle in Saudi Arabia — 8,100 miles away. In response to limited aquifers and a growing dairy sector, the country has moved a large portion of its alfalfa production to the United States.
In 2014, after sources said Saudi Arabian dried up their own aquifers, Fondomonte purchased 10,000 acres near Vicksburg, Arizona, and an additional 2,000 acres around Blythe, California.
In order to grow alfalfa on the state land trust, the Arabian company draws water from Butler Valley’s groundwater basin. But, that’s just where the debates start. Back in August of 2022, the state approved two new deep-water wells. Those wells are estimated to have pumped 3,000 gallons per minute, and according to Arizona news sources, Fondomonte isn’t being charged for their water.