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Associated Farming Goes Organic

Associated Farming is a family owned business, pictured are (L-R) Adam Hatley and his father Aubrey “Sonny” Hatley.

If you live near or commute down Indian School, Dobson or Chaparral roads in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, you might have noticed some new farming activity in that area: new watering systems, rows of plastic tarps in the fields and new fencing. It’s all part of Associated Farming’s new organic farming venture.

“This is [a venture to grow] organic leafy greens; we have partnered with a company out of Yuma who does this on a regular basis,” said Adam Hatley of the family-owned and operated Associated Farming Co., which leases 3,600 acres of land for farming in the Community. “We’re going to be growing spinach, kale and other varieties of lettuce for salads.”

Hatley and his father, Aubrey “Sonny” Hatley, have been growing cotton, alfalfa and wheat here for decades. The cotton is exported to China, Taiwan and Indonesia for the textile industry. The alfalfa is used for retail hay and goes to feed stores around Arizona and Texas.

“My father started here … [in] 1976; what has kept us here is the good relationship with the Community,” said Hatley.

It is a three-year-long process for farms to become certified organic, and Associated Farming is finishing up the final steps before planting. The process of certification requires that the company not apply any commercial fertilizers or chemicals to the ground where they plan to farm organically. Currently, the plastic that is lying out in the fields is meant to “solarize” the ground. Because they are not allowed to use any herbicides, the farmers pulled up the beds, watered the ground and placed plastic over it. The plastic holds the heat in to drop the moisture level, which then kills any weed seeds that may be in the ground. The farmers will start removing any weeds that grow and cleaning them out of the beds to prepare for planting the 500 acres of organic greens.

The rows of plastic tarps in the fields and new fencing along Indian School, Dobson, or Chaparral roads, is in preparation for organic farming, a three-year long process.
The fencing is put up for food-safety regulations, keeping out rodents and other animals that may contaminate the soil. Associated Farming would like to ask people not to walk their pets around in the area. The less accessibility, the better for the food-safety issue, explained Hatley.

In September, the majority of this field will be certified and the company will be able to start planting the leafy greens. “The other hundred acres we had in alfalfa is a year behind, so next year it will be ready to produce,” Hatley said.

After planting, the organic leafy greens should be ready for harvest fairly quickly. “It’s a pretty fast crop; I would say 60 days from planting to harvesting.

“They’ll harvest at night while it’s cool,” said Sonny Hatley. “They are miniature leafy greens and they can’t take a lot of heat stress, so they will harvest at night to preserve the quality.”

The greens will be mechanically harvested, shaved and dropped onto conveyers to go into bins. During harvest time there will be more activity in the area than normal; semi trucks will pick up the produce.

“We will keep the roads maintained, not only for the Community but for food safety and dust control,” said Hatley.

He envisions a positive result from this new farming venture. “It diversifies our operation, because we’ve been growing cotton, alfalfa and wheat for so long. This gives us another option, and our hope is that it’s a successful venture.”