Resilience in New Mexico Agriculture project enters third phase by Jane Moorman

Agriculture in New Mexico faces unprecedented challenges to the health of the industry. 

An aging population of farmers and ranchers, increasing pressure on water and other natural resources, rising costs for land, energy, equipment and other production needs, unsustainable farmers’ and ranchers’ incomes, and complex regulations are some of the challenges the Resilience in New Mexico Agriculture project is contemplating. 

New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and New Mexico First joined forces to lead a multi-year process to develop a strategic plan to help maintain a resilient New Mexico food and agricultural system. 

The strategic plan, released in August 2017, is the culmination of input from 600 stakeholders in 13 regional meetings around the state, and six months of deliberation by a 35-member task force of industry leaders and experts during the past two years, along with public comment. The plan is now moving toward the next phase: implementation. 

“The project has entered the third phase,” said project coordinator Michael Patrick, NMSU Extension economic development specialist. “Through implementation working groups, we are prioritizing the plan’s recommendations. A group will be focused on promoting policy, while NMSU will be providing the education and training needed to strengthen the industry.”

“The task force membership included a wide array of different elements of the agriculture and food industries,” said Heather Balas, New Mexico First’s president and executive director. “They worked together to develop a platform of recommendations for both public sector and private sector leaders to strengthen agriculture to be sure we have a vibrant industry into the future.”

Task force committees developed recommendations and strategies in four subject areas: next generation of farmers and ranchers, water and land use, agricultural supply chain and agriculture economic viability.

NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service has begun exploring options for a virtual training center, to help the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

“The first recommendation regarding the next generation is to develop a centralized beginning farmer and rancher center at NMSU to facilitate statewide outreach, education and technical services,” said Jon Boren, NMSU College of ACES associate dean and CES director. 

“We will be developing a virtual component that will complement what our agricultural agents are doing in the field. It will be a center to support principally ranchers and farmers just getting started with vital information for their success,” he said.

To date, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, McCune Charitable Foundation, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Santa Fe Community Foundation and Thornburg Foundation have all contributed funding to NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service and New Mexico First. 

The Cooperative Extension Service in particular has received nearly $300,000 since 2015, including a recently approved $63,000 grant from the Thornburg Foundation to provide initial funding for 2018 to support NMSU’s role in implementing the plan. 

New Mexico First has also received funding from Thornburg for 2018 activities, and a group of funders is now working together to determine potential future funding for implementing the plan. 

“The Thornburg Foundation sees great value in bringing diverse stakeholders together to develop a plan to address the critical challenges and threats facing our agricultural and food systems in New Mexico,” said Bryan Crawford-Garrett, Thornburg Foundation food and agriculture policy officer. “These are complex issues, and now that we have the plan in place we are committed to supporting the implementation of the plan’s recommendations and tracking progress toward achieving those recommendations.”

The strategic plan allows these multiple groups to focus on 17 recommendations. The strategic plan may be reached through and click on New Mexico Agriculture Plan for a downloaded copy.

Many of these threats, such as uncertain water and natural resource availability and low producer income, are not unique to New Mexico, and other states have bolstered their agricultural sectors through common plans of action.

With sufficient water supplies, researchers at NMSU science centers across the state can study the best ways to grow crops, such as these fields at the Agricultural Science Center at Artesia. New Mexico State University and the New Mexico First organization worked together to develop a strategic plan to address how to maintain a resilient New Mexico food and agricultural system.