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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station: Adapting research to New Mexico's counties

LAS CRUCES - Agriculture in eastern New Mexico, as throughout the state, is no stagnant industry. Dairy production is booming; farmers are increasingly growing high-value crops; and erosion-prone land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program will soon come back into production.

Scientists with New Mexico State University's Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) help the state's farmers deal with their ever-changing industry.

"We change our research emphasis to respond to community needs," said Gary Cunningham, association dean and director of AES in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . "For knowledge to be useful, it has to be adapted to farmers' management practices that are site-specific."

At the Agricultural Science Center at Artesia, for example, scientists are planning ways to help local farmers capitalize on the Pecos Valley's dairy boom. "First of all, we're trying to get good information out about the most useful forage crops for dairy cows," said Carl Barnes, center superintendent.

A new agronomist, specializing in soil, water and plant nutrition, will join the center's staff in September to address how producers can deal with the increasing amount of liquid and solid waste generated by the dairy industry. "This is positive research to make sure we protect the environment by using and disposing of the waste properly," Barnes said.

Artesia scientists also are talking with local dairy producers about the possibility of researching ways to establish a replacement dairy heifer industry in the area. "In the Pecos Valley, there's a built-in need for 25,000 to 30,000 replacements every year. Right now, producers have to buy their replacements outside the area," Barnes said.

At the Agricultural Science Center at Clovis, soil and water conservation are the main research interests of Brent Rouppet, the superintendent. Located on the eastern edge of the Ogallala Aquifer, there's concern that the area's water table is going down. "Farmers who have traditionally grown corn, wheat and sorghum are increasingly converting to high-value crops like chile, onions and potatoes' to get the most return per irrigated acre," Rouppet said. "Farmers here need to use water as wisely as-possible."

Installing a new drip irrigation system at the Clovis center this summer will help scientists demonstrate the system to local irrigation is a much more efficient way to irrigate than furrow and sprinkler systems," Rouppet said.

What should farmers do with nearly a half million acres of land mostly in Curry, Harding, Lea, Quay, Roosevelt and Union counties that's coming back into production within the next few years after lying idle for 10 years under the Conservation Reserve Program? That's been the focus of much of Rex Kirksey's work as superintendent of the Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari.

With this project, researchers at Tucumcari, Clovis and Las Cruces are studying the best options for farmers including using the land to support grazing, crops and wildlife. "From preliminary research, we're finding that weeping lovegrass has potential for growers who want to use their grassland acres for cattle grazing," Kirksey said.

Cunningham said AES researchers all across the state work on agricultural problems to help farmers sustain their land and their operations. "It's all about making sure the industry continues to thrive in the future."

Such research becomes critical because New Mexico's soil and climate conditions are so diverse. "The more diverse you are, the more difficult the research becomes," Cunningham said. "At the same time, we value the diversity, because it means our agricultural economy is stable."

Scientists stationed at the main campus in Las Cruces and at 13 agricultural science and research centers throughout the state collaborate to address these diverse needs. "It's team research all focused on regionally adapted research," Cunningham said.