Everything Is Coming Up Roses In Eloy

Everything Is Coming Up Roses In Eloy

By Terri Jo Neff |

Agriculture has long been a key to Arizona’s economy, as shown by the inclusion of cotton and citrus in the 5 C’s of the state’s top economic drivers (copper, climate, and cattle being the others).  But one company in Eloy believes the motto should be amended to include an R, as in roses.

In 1986, the rose was decreed by President Ronald Reagan as America’s national floral emblem. The next year, Michael Francis started Francis Roses on a few acres in Maricopa County.

Today, nearly 75 percent of long-life garden rosebushes are grown in climate-friendly Arizona, with Francis Roses having the largest market share.  The company sells its early growth rosebushes to nurseries and other wholesalers through the U.S. and Europe.

Michael’s son Tyler now helms the company and was responsible for relocating the business to Eloy in Pinal County in a careful transition which began in December 2020.  Tyler Francis acknowledges that the move to Eloy after so many years in the West Valley was not without its challenges, given the variations in soil, water, and air.

There is also a difference in cultural farming practices and definitely a more rural setting..

“It made us better farmers due to needing to ensure best practices for growing a highly specialize horticulture crop in a new environment,” Francis told AZ Free News.

There are 37,000 types of registered roses worldwide, although many from before the 1970s are no longer commonly available. It is also extremely difficult for new varieties to come to market despite improved breeding efforts, according to Francis.

“Roses are quite hearty but like anything they are susceptible to weaknesses over time,” Francis said. “At Francis Roses, we’ve taken a very long approach to how we introduce a new variety.”

Francis pointed out there is a vast difference between the genetics of garden roses compared to roses grown to be sold as cut roses.  Specialty roses like those Francis Roses grows are a big economic engine with a small environmental footprint, with 400 acres of his roses generating the same revenue as 15,000 acres of cotton.

And Francis is cognizant of the challenges agri-businesses face, which is why he takes the position that the other commercial rosebush growers are not competitors. He looks at them instead as potential customers, an attitude he further developed during a recent stint as president of the Arizona Nursey Association.

Francis’ background in economics becomes obvious when he begins to talk about rosebushes, or “units” as he refers to them. He also recognizes the economic impact Francis Roses brings to the Eloy area and the future growth potential.

Which is one reason Francis is deeply committed to the company’s research and development efforts which have led to propriety methods of fertilizers and other products to help maintain moisture in soil. The company has also chosen to work with only the most respected rose breeders in the world.

It can take two years for a Francis Roses rosebush to grow just a few inches, and each will inspected several times before being shipped off to farms and nurseries across the globe. One such facility is co-owned by Francis Roses in Texas where the rosebushes grow bigger before being sold or distributed to retail clients such as Armstrong Garden Centers.

Francis Roses grows about 400 varieties of garden roses at any given time, and evaluates 400 to 600 more varieties for features such as color, disease resistance, and fragrance. It can harvest upward of eight million units annually, but giving life to some of the world’s most prized roses requires a lot of work, and workers.  

Some of those workers are fulltime employees with ag-related degrees, while the majority come to Arizona for several months at a time under H2A visas as temporary agricultural workers.

The state’s housing shortage, which is particularly acute in Pinal County, has  required Francis Roses to think outside the box to care for those workers. The company recently partnered with Clayton Homes to provide on-site housing, and Francis is looking at other options to make the jobs more appealing to the workers.  

“Without those workers we would not exist,” Francis said, adding that the company pays above average ag-business wages. “I am happy Francis Roses is able to provide high paying agriculture jobs in Arizona. The vitality and diversity of the state’s economy is important to me.”

In 2016, Francis Roses released its Miranda Lambert hybrid tea rose.  Royalties from sales of the specialty rose are donated to Lambert’s Mutt Nation for ending animal neglect.  The company has also recently developed a Julie Andrews tea rose.

FUN FACT: Most cut roses purchased from a florist for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day do not come from U.S. rose farms. Instead, they are imported from South America, particularly Ecuador and Columbia.

Copper Mining Reboot In Arizona Hits Snags As Workforce Is Cut

Copper Mining Reboot In Arizona Hits Snags As Workforce Is Cut

By Terri Jo Neff |

Arizona ‘s hope to reinvigorate domestic copper production has hit what workers and industry experts hope is only a temporary pause with the reduction of workforce and wellfield operations at Excelsior Mining’s Gunnison Copper Project in northern Cochise County.

Toronto-based Excelsior Mining recently announced it would be throttling back operations at its Gunnison Copper Project and would not reopening mining operations at the company’s nearby historic Johnson Camp Mine this summer as projected months ago.

The Johnson Camp Mine is one of Arizona’s oldest copper mines, with records showing miners bore underground into large reserves starting in the 1890s. The site located north of Interstate 10 near Dragoon saw a number of changes over the decades before operating as an open pit mine from the mid-1970s until the end of mining at the site in 2010.

Excelsior Mining purchased the shuttered Johnson Camp property in 2015 with plans to utilize the solvent extraction electrowinning (SXEW) facility at the property to process copper oxide from Gunnison, a state-of-the-art facility built on hundreds of acres the company owns south of I-10. The final product would be 99.999 percent copper cathode sheets to be shipped off to customers.

Construction of the Gunnison facility garnered national attention as an example of reinvigorating American’s domestic copper production. But the project has faced its share of unexpected delays, including COVID-19.

Then company officials had to address carbon dioxide gas bubbles which greatly reduced injection flows and prevented timely ramp-up to production at Gunnison. A workaround was identified by utilizing fresh water to help dissolve the calcite, but the company has acknowledged it “is not considered the optimal long-term solution” due to water conservation and evaporation concerns.

The long-term answer for Gunnison seems to be construction of an expensive to build raffinate neutralization plant. Company officials then took another look at its Johnson Camp property in hopes of generating cashflow.

In September, Excelsior Mining’s CEO Stephen Twyerould announced plans to utilize various copper deposits spread across the Camp Johnson Mine property which could be processed into copper cathode sheets through the SXEW.

“No new infrastructure will be required, with the exception of a new leach pad and minor piping and pumping facilities,” Twyerould said at the time. “Operations could provide up to 5 years of copper production at the 25 million pounds per annum capacity of the existing SXEW plant.”

Then in January, Twyerould announced that two diamond drills had been mobilized to Johnson Camp to assist with assay activities.

“We are moving quickly on key items related to the JCM restart, which, once operational, will provide cash flow while the raffinate neutralization plant is being designed and built for our flagship asset, the Gunnison Copper Mine,” Twyerould said at the time.

Excelsior suggested copper cathode production from Johnson Camp’s open pits could commence this summer after announcing in April that 31 of 34 planned holes have been drilled using diamond drill rigs, with six holes drilled waiting on assays.

Then on June 22, Twyerould announced that the process to obtain permits for the new leach pad was in progress. He also noted drilling activities were helping to map the Johnson Camp deposits in greater detail than ever before.

“The drilling program is now completed with a total of 43 diamond holes being drilled,” Twyerould said. “Six holes are still awaiting assays.”

However, Twyerould went on to announce that the additional drilling and metallurgical testing will push Excelsior’s goal of restarting mining operations at Johnson Camp to sometime in 2023.

“Therefore, in order to conserve cash and maintain a robust balance sheet, Excelsior is reducing its workforce and putting the wellfield on reduced operation by temporarily stopping acid injection whilst continuing recovery and compliance to ensure underground solutions are managed and controlled,” Twyerould said.

In the meantime, Excelsior intends to undertake a more comprehensive evaluation of the oxide and sulfide potential of its mineral resource and mining assets, according to the company.

Small Business Report Draws Attention To Lack Of Optimism

Small Business Report Draws Attention To Lack Of Optimism

By Terri Jo Neff |

The number of small business owners across America who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months dropped considerably in June, hitting the lowest level in the 48 years the National Federation of Independent Business has conducted the survey.

That was the dismal news released Tuesday by Chad Heinrich, NFIB’s state director for Arizona.

“With small-business-owner expectations dimming to a record low, it becomes even more important that we have state leaders focused on ways to improve business conditions for the small-business owner,” Heinrich said. “All Arizonans have benefited from state legislative and executive leaders who have adopted pro-small-business policies year-after-year.”

Heinrich’s statement drew attention to the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index for June which showed a drop for the sixth consecutive month. That means the expectations of small business owners for better conditions have worsened every month of 2022.

NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg also addressed the pessimistic news revealed by the Small Business Optimism Index.

“On top of the immediate challenges facing small business owners including inflation and worker shortages, the outlook for economic policy is not encouraging either as policy talks have shifted to tax increases and more regulations,” Dunkelberg said.
Among the key findings in Tuesday’s report is that 50 percent of small business owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a historically “very high” rating. Of those hiring or trying to hire, 94 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.

Even one bit of good news in Tuesday’s report wasn’t all that positive. According to NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index, the net percent of owners raising their average selling prices decreased three points. However, the decrease comes after May’s record high reporting of price increases.

Heinrich advised that Arizonans cannot rest on the successes that have kept the state at or near the top of post-pandemic economic gains.

“We must continue to support leaders who understand that most new jobs are created by small business owners,” he said. “Small businesses drive the Arizona economy forward.”

The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the 4th quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are randomly drawn from NFIB’s membership.

July 4 Cookouts to Cost 17 Percent More For Arizonans On Average

July 4 Cookouts to Cost 17 Percent More For Arizonans On Average

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizonans will pay an average of 17 percent more for their July 4 cookout than last year due to the inflation and supply chain crises. That averages $10 more for 10 people.

Nearly all staples increased by double digit percentages: 

  • 2 pounds of ground beef increased 36 percent —  $8.18 to $11.12
  • 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts increased 33 percent — $6.76 to $8.99
  • 32 ounces of pork and beans increased 33 percent —  $1.90 to $2.53
  • 3 pounds of center cut pork chops increased 31 percent — $11.65 to $15.26
  • 2.5 quarts of fresh-squeezed lemonade increased 22 percent — $3.63 to $4.43
  • 2.5 pounds of homemade potato salad increased 19 percent — $2.75 to $3.27
  • 8 hamburger buns increased 16 percent — $1.67 to $1.93
  • Half-gallon of vanilla ice cream increased 10 percent  — $4.69 to $5.16
  • 13-ounce bag of chocolate chip cookies increased 7 percent  — $4.03 to $4.31

Certain foods declined in cost: strawberries by 86 cents, sliced cheese by 48 cents, and potato chips by 22 cents. 

The data came from the latest American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) survey. As of the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index report from May, inflation in Arizona is at a historic high, rising over eight percent in one year with Phoenix bearing the worst of it at 11 percent. 

For last year’s July 4 celebrations, the Biden administration boasted that they helped Americans save an average of 16 cents on cookout foods.

The White House claim was widely criticized, and its corresponding tweet was heavily ratioed: over 23,400 comments and over 17,300 quote tweets, a majority of which were negative, with only over 11,200 likes. 

Critics like Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) pointed out that gas prices at the time were at a seven-year high, or a 42 percent increase from 2020. At present, gas prices are hitting all-time highs in recent weeks — even with adjustments for inflation. 

Additionally, last year’s Fourth of July food costs may not have been as good as the White House claimed. The Washington Examiner pointed out that the White House ignored certain food items that rose in price: hamburger buns, potato salad, chicken breasts, chocolate chip cookies, and strawberries. The report noted that the Department of Agriculture data reflected an overall increase in food prices of 1.4 percent. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Walmart to Launch Drone Delivery Service in Arizona

Walmart to Launch Drone Delivery Service in Arizona

By Corinne Murdock |

Walmart announced last Tuesday that they were bringing drone delivery to Arizona and five other states by the end of this year. Those other states will be Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. 

The retail giant projected that it would reach 4 million households across the six states, averaging about 1 million packages in its first year. 

The drone service would be available between 8 am and 8 pm. Only certain items would be eligible, in packages weighing up to 10 pounds. The delivery fee would be about $4, guaranteed to deliver within 30 minutes.

Walmart is the latest in a race with other corporations seeking to capitalize on speedier delivery services using technology like drones. Amazon has been testing a fully autonomous drone delivery service. Although they completed their first human-free delivery in 2016, the corporation hasn’t launched that delivery option officially.

Walmart contracted with DroneUp, a drone service based out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, last November. The drones require a flight engineer to navigate them from the stores to the homes. 

Their latest partnership hasn’t been the first. During initial months of the pandemic, Walmart used DroneUp’s technology to deliver COVID-19 tests to Las Vegas residences. 

Walmart also launched test runs with other drone companies: FlyTrex and Zipline.

Prior to launching drone delivery test runs in the U.S., Walmart tested drone delivery in 2019 with the Japanese supermarket company it owned at the time, Seiyu. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona’s Management Philosophy For State Agencies Continues To Pay Dividends

Arizona’s Management Philosophy For State Agencies Continues To Pay Dividends

By Terri Jo Neff |

Shortly after being sworn into office more than seven years ago, Gov. Doug Ducey made it clear to the heads of every state agency that he wanted the needs of residents to be better served and to make Arizona an attractive location for businesses.

The result was the rollout of the Arizona Management System (AMS), a results-driven philosophy which empowers state employees to identify ways to make the government work more efficiently while eliminating waste, all with an emphasis on enhancing customer service. And AMS is paying dividends, according to several agency directors who recently provided updates to Ducey.  

Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services

Building upon Arizona’s commitment to veterans, the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services embraced AMS to identify and work to solve the root causes of veteran suicides. Stakeholders -including the Department, the Governor’s Office, and the Arizona Coalition for Military Families- came together with a different approach to veteran suicide prevention.

The result, according to Col. Wanda Wright, is Arizona’s Be Connected program, which was recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with the 2021 Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award.  

Arizona Department of Water Resources

Drought response and preparedness plays a vital role in guiding Arizona Department of Water Resources, but there was a time that the state’s water professionals had limited involvement in federal strategic planning related to drought.

Under AMS, ADWR expanded its network of experts in academia, the private sector, and industry groups to lead statewide drought planning efforts. One outcome, according to ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke, is Arizona’s active participation in the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System.

Arizona Department of Transportation

Prior to integrating the AMS philosophy in Arizona Department of Transportation projects, stakeholders often complained that deadlines were of higher concern than local impacts. But with AMS in place, Director John S. Halikowski says ADOT employees are applying several innovative approaches to keep vehicles -and commerce- moving during construction projects to minimize potentially disruptive restrictions and closures.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

Misael Cabrera was named director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality shortly after Ducey announced the AMS initiative in 2015. In response, ADEQ has developed the “My Community” dashboard to provide environmental and demographic map data on its website. The timely information is accessible via an easy-to-use, online tool the public can use to understand what ADEQ is doing to address environmental issues in various communities.

Arizona Department of Housing

Another state agency which embraced the AMS philosophy early on is the Arizona Department of Housing. It saw several increases in efficiency by implementing a more visual method of keeping staff updated on deadlines and department goals. And that has continued since Director Tom Simplot took the helm in 2021, with an emphasis on faster inspections and decision-making. More information on how AMS is improving state agencies is available here.