Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company will soon be unable to farm alfalfa in its own parched country to feed its 170,000 cows. So it’s turning to an unlikely place to grow the water-chugging crop — the drought-stricken American Southwest.
Almarai Co. bought land in January that roughly doubled its holdings in California’s Palo Verde Valley, an area that enjoys first dibs on water from the Colorado River. The company also acquired a large tract near Vicksburg, Arizona, becoming a powerful economic force in a region that has fewer well-pumping restrictions than other parts of the state.
The purchases totaling about 14,000 acres enable the Saudis to take advantage of farm-friendly U.S. water laws.
“We’ve got them coming, moving in here and using our natural resources up. Why isn’t anyone paying attention to the ground we live on?” she said.
Christopher Thornberg, an economist at the University of California at Riverside, called alfalfa farms a “shocking waste of a resource” and suggested California consider seizing land under eminent domain.
“At some point in time,” he said, “we have to face the fact that the state cannot continue to prosper under the current circumstances.”