NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

NMSU helps southern pueblos improve their agricultural workforce

With nearly half of United States agricultural producers reaching retirement age, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has allocated funding to train beginning farmers and ranchers to help reduce the impact of that aging population.

Three men standing in front of green vines
Percy Reano, center, and Leonard Bird, right, both of Santo Domingo Pueblo, learn about raising tomatoes with hydroponics from hydroponic vegetable grower Steve Martin, owner of Growing Opportunities in Alcalde, during a tour by the Southern Pueblo Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. Bird is a participant in the program for people in farming for less than 10 years. He returned to farming after a career away from the pueblo. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)
Men working on a building’s frame
Participants in the Southern Pueblo Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program assemble a hoop house during a workshop provided by New Mexico State University's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project. Fifty-eight pueblo members who have farmed or ranched less than 10 years learn modern horticultural, animal husbandry and business theory during the three year program.(NMSU photo)

New Mexico State University, partnering with the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, has used grant money from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program for the past three years to help producers from the southern pueblos to improve their agricultural operations while maintaining their tribal traditional in agriculture.

The pueblos participating are Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, San Felipe, Sandia, Santo Domingo and Laguna.

“We feel this has been a very successful project,” said Edmund Gomez, director of NMSU’s Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project and administrator of the beginning farmer and rancher program. “Tribal elders had approached us with concerns that the future of agriculture, and especially the culture within their pueblos, was being lost because they do not have a new generation of farmers taking over.”

Fifty-eight individuals with less than 10 years of farming or ranching experience participated in workshops on horticulture, animal husbandry and agricultural economics. Each participant also received one-on-one assistance to ensure their farm operation would improve.

“During the last three years, we’ve provided more than 50 subject-related workshops and more than 25 on-farm demonstrations,” Gomez said. “We also held field trips to various agricultural operations for the participants to see ways they can improve their farm and ranch.”

Along with agricultural topics, Gomez’s staff introduces the participants to good business practices, such as record-keeping, profit-and-loss statements and other risk-management practices.

“Throughout this program, we have helped the participants learn about the paperwork they will need to obtain loans from financial institutions and the many financial aid programs the USDA has through its Farm Service Agency,” Gomez said. “Many of the participants have taken advantage and obtained loans for farm equipment.”

The beginning farmers and ranchers report that they have already seen an economic impact from the training they received. Several are sharing what they have learned with their tribal members to help the pueblos’ agricultural production as well.

Gilbert Louis III, Pueblo of Acoma Livestock and Grazing Board member, said this was a unique program that allowed the participants to further their education in industry best practices.

“If you are not a part of the program, it is hard to go places and get this knowledge and experience,” Louis said of the information he has applied to his beef-cattle production. “Because of being Beef Quality Assurance certified, we are now getting better prices for our calves at the sale barn.”

Franklin Martinez, of the Acoma Department of Natural Resources, said he has learned that his tribal cow-to-calf ratio is not what it should be for a profitable operation, so now it is a concern that his department is addressing.

“In the past, we just figured a cow would have a calf all the time,” Martinez said. “We never saw pregnancy testing as a business management tool.”

Many of the individuals focusing on farming have simply run operations the way their grandparents had, or asked tribal members when to plant, irrigate and harvest. NMSU Extension specialists have taught the farmers research-based information so they can improve their crop yield.

During hands-on workshops, several participants had low-cost, passive-energy hoop green houses built so they can extend the growing season and raise winter greens for market.

“The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program has allowed me to get the training I needed to have a profitable alfalfa operation on my 12 acres,” said Leonard Bird of Santa Domingo Pueblo. “I have begun an apple orchard that I hope my community members will see and become interested in turning their land back to agricultural production.”