Sinagua Conagua: Where Agriculture, Business, and Conservation Meet

by Alyssa Kiefer  

Water conservation is not a new topic, especially in the Southwest, but recent conservation efforts made in the Verde Valley are considerably noteworthy. Farms along the Verde River continue to flourish even as conservation groups are stepping in, new water distribution technology is implemented, and plant rotations are shifting. The goal is to reduce the volume of water taken from the Verde River for local agriculture, especially during summer months when water levels are naturally at their lowest.


Sinagua Malt started in 2015 as an Arizona benefit corporation. The directors work toward providing local farmer support while also working to keep water in the rivers that the farmers utilize to water their crops. Chip Norton, Verde Conservation District Supervisor, in conjunction with Kim Schonek, manager of the Verde River program for The Nature Conservancy in AZ, found that switching summer crops from corn and alfalfa to barley saves noticeable amounts of water during the driest months of summer. Barley is commonly planted in January and harvested in June, taking the most advantage of winter rains. This small crop switch can benefit the land while keeping agricultural land in production. “If just one-tenth of the valley’s 6,000 acres of cropland could be converted to barley, summertime irrigation demand would drop by nearly 200 million gallons, keeping critical flow in the river when it’s needed most.” (National Geographic: ‘Farmers, Brewers and Conservationists’)

Image credit: Sinagua Malt website (


Sinagua Malt plans to use this increased barley crop to help create a more sustainable beer environment in Arizona by producing locally malted ingredients for local breweries. Their new facility is located in Camp Verde, AZ and is scheduled to begin commercially malting in fall 2017. Several Arizona breweries have expressed interest in purchasing malted barley from Sinagua Malt, including Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company in Gilbert, AZ, who already uses it alongside hops grown at Copper Hop Ranch in Elgin, AZ for their popular brew, "Connection Saison". Sinagua Malt profits will benefit Verde River conservation, an effort The Nature Conservancy began years ago.


Image credit: Friends of the Verde River Greenway (


Water conservation efforts in the Verde Valley have been very successful: today, the Verde River has twice the water flow in summer months as it had before! Several recent changes are to thank, including cessation of flood irrigation, new installments of movable drip lines, and a shift in traditional thinking away from a ‘use it or lose it’ mindset. Watering techniques also include ditch irrigation, newly monitored by an automatic gate powered by solar panels, to ensure only the necessary amount of water is removed from the river’s flow. However, it has taken creative partnerships among farmers, businesses, and conservation groups to make these conservation efforts possible.


There are two ways YOU can support this project:

  1. Learn more: Seize the opportunity to learn more about water conservation farming techniques THIS MONTH at the Regional Food Producer’s Forum in Clarkdale. The event provides the space for current and potential small-scale producers to convene, acquire knowledge in growing, processing, and selling, share best practices, and celebrate the local food community. The event is free to attend, but RSVP is requested by 7/21 to Kate ( Find more event information on programming and sponsorship opportunities here.



Tuesday July 25, 2017 from 9am-4pm

Yavapai College in Clarkdale, AZ



2. Invest in the Project: Sinagua Malt has worked to secure private investment to purchase malting equipment and secure a location in Camp Verde. Through an Indiegogo campaign, they are seeking to secure 2017 operating costs – this includes initial purchase of grain, hiring a malt master, and getting the doors open. Check out the great perks - or just contribute what you can here!




“Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Called the World’s Best New Brewery” by Heather Hoch. Phoenix New Times. April 15, 2014.


“Connection Saison  at Arizona Wilderness Brewery is an Entirely ‘Arizona Born’ Ale” by Dave Clark. Phoenix New Times. October 17, 2016.


“Farmers, Brewers, and Conservationists Partner to Keep a River Flowing” by Sandra Postel. National Geographic: Water Currents. March 30, 2017.


“Smarter Irrigation Returns Water to Arizona’s Verde River” by Sandra Postel. National Geographic: Water Currents. December 5, 2013.


National Geographic: ‘Farmers, Brewers, and Conservationists’