QCS Managing Editor
Whether, like Bob Carr, they came to learn about treated wastewater and irrigation, or, like rancher Tom Sidwell, they came for the camaraderie, about 100 area residents gathered for the annual Field Day at the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center in Tucumcari.
The event included a barbecue dinner and a hayride, but neither event was mere entertainment.
New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte defended farmers and ranchers against charges they waste water as the event’s main speaker. At stops on the hayride, other speakers, faculty and graduate students at NMSU, talked about current research projects on subjects like new weed species likely to appear in treated wastewater, blue corn and the use of annual forage crops as winter feed for heifers.
The participants also heard about recent successes in efforts to keep the Lesser Prairie Chicken off threatened and endangered species lists.
Leonard Lauriault, superintendent of the science center, introduced the program and announced the Tucumcari center is getting ready to expand its research and is even preparing to hire an additional faculty member.
In his talk, Witte noted that local farmers who were paying for allocations of three acre-feet of water this year were actually getting no water. A water right, he said, does not equate to wet water these days.
Meanwhile, in urban areas, he said, per capita water use has been measured at about 185 gallons a day. Since there is no water right imposed on an urban dweller, he said, the city resident can “take seven showers a day” without worrying about exceeding limits.
Farmers, he said, are not the ones wasting water. Consumers are.
A glass of beer, he said, requires 75 gallons of water to make. A gallon of milk requires the use of 250 gallons of water. Processing beef, he said, requires about 4,000 gallons of water per pound.
When the same three acre feet that a farm is allocated is the same amount as is used by only a dozen urban households in a year, the farmer gets blamed for wasting water. Urban households use that water “without adding nutrients” in return, Witte said.
He also pointed out that farmers have increased yields per acre on all crops over the past 100 years by five to 10 times, which also means each gallon of water is going further in production.
In recent years, farmers have also installed sensors in crops that can help farmers determine when they need water and how much they need, another conservation step.
These efficiency numbers will continue to improve, he said, with research conducted at the agricultural research stations and elsewhere.
On one hayride stop, Tom Sidwell, a Quay County rancher, and Tom Dominguez, the Quay County Agricultural Extension agent, talked about efforts to avoid having the Lesser Prairie Chicken, a field grouse species, listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Environmental Protection Act.
The campaign to prevent the listing has involved agricultural specialists, farmers and ranchers, and state, county and federal officials. The effort has persuaded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delay a decision on the listing.
On another hayride stop, Brian Schutte, a weed specialist on the NMSU faculty, talked about weed species that can thrive in soil irrigated with treated wastewater.
The wastewater, he said, is often saltier than fresh water and those conditions weeds that include perennial pepperwood and hoary cress can thrive and rapidly take over a field. He said, however, that treated wastewater used at the Tucumcari facility is not as saline as some that he has seen elsewhere.
Eric Scholljegerdes, of NMSU’s Animal and Range Sciences faculty, discussed success noted with the use of annual forages as winter feed for growing heifers.
Amol Nankar, a graduate student in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department, reported on a blue corn breeding program.
While many food products from corn are considered not healthful due to high sugar and starch content, he said, blue corn has been shown to contain as much as 10 times more anti-oxidants than highly touted anti-oxidant sources like blueberries and broccoli. Among other benefits, antioxidants have been shown to help prevent cancer, Nankar said.