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New Mexico agriculture leaders conclude listening sessions, plan more in 2018

New Mexico’s top agricultural leaders concluded their 2017 statewide listening sessions with agricultural producers in Las Cruces on Nov. 2.


Man speaking while another looks on.
New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Dean Rolando A. Flores talks to agricultural producers while New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte listens. The two agriculture leaders concluded a series of three listening sessions around the state in Las Cruces on Nov. 2. They plan to have additional sessions in 2018. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Dean Rolando A. Flores and New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte held listening sessions around the state to hear the concerns of farmers and ranchers.

Aging agricultural producers, access to federal land, lack of a meat processing plant, agriculture literacy, the general public’s lack of awareness of the economic impact of agriculture, water engineering and use, and the impact of the federal Farm Bill and foreign trade agreements were among the many topics addressed during the listening sessions in Portales, Abiquiu and Las Cruces.

“The interesting thing is that all three sessions have had different points of view about things impacting the regions,” Witte said. “It’s nice to hear the local perspective. People in the agricultural industry want to improve and move the state’s industry forward. They also want to give some advice to our department and the university on how to help them do that.”

“The challenges are great and we need to be very selective on solving the problems,” Flores said. “That’s why these listening sessions are so important, we don’t want to be in a vacuum. We don’t want to keep our campus isolated from what the agricultural producer needs.”

During the Las Cruces session, Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager, shared his frustration when dealing with university graduates working for government agencies as biologists and civil engineers.

“I’m having to educate them about how water is used in agriculture,” Esslinger said. “While building structures in irrigation ditches, we are working with civil engineers rather than agriculture engineers.”

He suggested that NMSU should have courses in that dealing specifically with irrigation management, hydrology, technology, construction, water law and how to improve river operations and increase efficiency in making deliveries to farms within irrigation districts.

“This is extremely critical,” Flores said. “Water is one of the ACES pillars for economic and community development. Presently, NMSU has 114 researchers working on water issues and we probably are not addressing all of the aspects that we need to research.”

Flores added that the College of ACES is exploring a complete undergraduate degree in water and a minor degree in water use, as well as having a water academy.

“Our associate dean and director of the Cooperative Extension Service already has the position of water management specialist on his ‘to-hire’ list when he gets funding,” Flores said. “We need a water management specialist to work with the food processing industry as well as agriculture.”