Writer: Justin Bannister, (575) 646-5981, firstname.lastname@example.org
Organizers of a grassroots legislative initiative are asking the New Mexico Legislature to help New Mexico State University develop a sustainable agriculture program.
Supporters say the program would benefit small farmers across the state.
Jeff Graham is the owner of Mysterious Horizons, a certified organic farm in the Mesilla Valley. He said the state is losing a lot of agricultural land to development because many farms aren't as profitable as they once were.
"Many of these farmers need to find a way to make a profit, and we want to help," he said.
Graham is trying to persuade state lawmakers to support program to teach farmers how it's possible to earn higher profits by modifying what crops they grow and how they grow them.
Specifically, the program would teach the benefits of growing specialty crops as well as using more efficient irrigation, alternative marketing and other ideas proven to be successful across the country.
Since the effort is a grassroots push, it is not being led by NMSU. Still, Paul Gutierrez, vice provost for outreach, believes the program would help many in the state.
"More than 80 percent of farms and ranches in New Mexico are classified as small farms," said Gutierrez. "We need to offer more practical research and education to help small scale farmers be more successful."
"NMSU already has aspects of the program scattered throughout the state, such as the Alcalde Research Center. This effort would better organize those efforts and make them available statewide," Graham said.
It would become part of NMSU's continuing mission of outreach and service to New Mexicans. Graham wants to see NMSU professors develop a curriculum aimed at teaching sustainable agriculture practices.
Part of the proposal would be to develop a Bachelor's of Sustainable Agriculture degree where students would take the first two years of classes at NMSU Dona Ana Community College and finish the last two years at NMSU's main campus.
Bills sponsored by state Rep. Andy Nunez, D-Hatch, and state Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, are set to go before the Legislature. The session began Jan. 16. The bills would provide money, including $500,000 in non-recurring funds for infrastructure and equipment, as well as $200,000 in recurring funds for staffing.
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