Major water cuts in Pinal County, Arizona, mean farmers are looking for more water-efficient crops. Since 2019, Will Thelander has been testing guayule, a desert-adapted shrub, which could be used as natural rubber for tires and needs only half the water of cotton, alfalfa, and corn. He currently grows 84 acres of guayule, but says Bridgestone hopes to ramp up production to 300 acres by next year, 2,000 acres by 2024, and 25,000 acres by 2027. Guayule is a perennial crop, and low maintenance makes it ideal for farmers in arid, drought-stricken areas. Most of Bridgestone’s natural rubber right now comes from hevea rubber trees in southeast Asia. While guayule is uniquely adapted to the region, says Peter Ellsworth, entomology and integrated pest management specialist at the University of Arizona, production is still relatively small. But Thelander says there’s growing interest. “You have a billion dollar company like Bridgestone behind something. And they’re guaranteeing prices. It can provide stability for a farmer.”

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