Field Day focuses on water

Argen Duncan

People need to know water for agriculture provides food and fiber, and Curry County is the top producer of raw agriculture products in the state, the new state secretary of agriculture said.

New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte gave the keynote speech during the annual field day at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis on Thursday. The day also included tours and information dealing with recent research at the center and lunch.

Center Superintendent Rex Kirksey said he thought the program contained interesting information. The focus was on water issues, he said.

During his talk, Witte, who came from a ranching background, said such research would take the agriculture industry into the future.

With global population increasing and the amount of land available for agriculture decreasing, he said, farmers and ranchers will need to produce 70 percent more food with less water. They need research to do that, Witte continued.

Curry County turns out more than $500 million of raw agricultural products, he said.

“The point is, agriculture is big business across the state of New Mexico,” Witte said, adding lawmakers and consumers often forget the industry’s importance, especially east of the Mississippi.

“They don’t understand that that piece of meat that comes on your plate started out on a ranch,” he said.

Ninety-five percent of water may go to agriculture, he said, but that’s not just agriculture — it’s food and fiber, Witte said. Less than 200,000 farms feed this nation and people in other countries, he said.

With the Farm Bill discussion coming up in Congress and debt parameters set, he said, commodity programs will be under pressure. Conservation programs will receive less pressure, Witte predicted.

Dave Thompson and Jon Boren of New Mexico State University also spoke.

Thompson, director of agricultural experiment stations, said agricultural experiment station budgets had been cut 25 percent in the last three years, with the Clovis station losing $70,000 this year. Still, the station has done well with community and agriculture industry support and produced the largest number of grants of any NMSU science center, he said.

“Despite all the issues and lack of water, this is an exciting time to be in agriculture,” Thompson concluded.

Boren, director of NMSU Cooperative Extension Service, said research that meets needs was his and Thompson’s No. 1 priority.

The extension service has experienced a 24 percent cut in state appropriations in the past four to five years, he said. NMSU tuition increases don’t affect extension and agricultural experiment stations, Boren said.

To compensate for getting less money, he said, positions have been left open. Filling the positions will be a priority if the extension service gets more money, Boren said.