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Walser Hired as NMSU Fruit Specialist in Alcalde

ALBUQUERQUE - Fruit production in northern New Mexico will receive a much-needed boost from Ron Walser, the first fruit specialist for New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service to be based in Alcalde.

Walser, who began March 13, will conduct fruit research at the Agricultural Science Center at Alcalde and work with northern New Mexico producers to improve and diversify fruit production.

"This is a critical time for agriculture throughout the north, given the challenges facing water management and the general decline in farming in this area, especially fruit production," said Steve Guldan, center superintendent. "Ron will provide timely assistance to fruit growers and hopefully help the families that are currently in business to stay in business while getting more people interested in fruit farming."

Walser brings more than 30 years of experience to the job, including lengthy stints with Extension in other states and consultancy work for industry.

Walser received a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1968 from Brigham Young University and a doctorate in crop physiology in 1976 from Utah State. From 1976 to 1980, he worked with Extension at three universities: Kentucky, Texas Tech and Utah. He taught at Brigham Young from 1980 to 1993.

Since 1993, he has worked mostly in the private sector, including five years as a horticulture field agent with two fruit and vegetable growing and processing cooperatives in Chihuahua, Mexico. He was associate Extension agent in Graham County, Ariz., from January 1998 to June 1999. Since then, he has worked as field representative and field manager for Washington-based Windflow Fertilizer Inc. and for Radar Farms Inc., respectively.

Walser said he will focus on helping small northern New Mexico fruit growers make their farms more lucrative.

"Most farms up here are small 1- to 5-acre operations and for them to be sustainable, they must be profitable," he said. "A lot of these folks work their apple orchards and grow other fruit as supplemental income. It needs to become a lot more profitable for them and that's going to be my main focus."

To help growers diversify, Walser plans to test local adaptability of cold-hardy, late blooming stone fruit cultivars, such as peaches, cherries, apricots and plums. He also plans to introduce small fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and cold-hardy kiwifruit. All test crops will be grown using certified organic farming practices to help promote organic methods among fruit farmers.

Walser also expects to establish a demonstration under-tree sprinkler irrigation system at the science center to teach local growers to use it. The system uses 40 percent less water than furrow or flood irrigation and helps prevent frost damage because the water gives off heat as it freezes, Walser said.

"Late spring frost is a major problem up here, so this sprinkling system can help a lot with that," Walser said.

Walser is the second specialist hired at Alcalde this year. In January, Alexander "Sam" Fernald became NMSU's first natural resources specialist in Alcalde.

Both positions were created in response to requests from local producers, said Edmund Gomez, executive director of NMSU's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project, based in Alcalde.

"These are grassroots-driven initiatives," Gomez said. "Producers asked us to hire a fruit specialist to help revive fruit production in the north and a natural resources specialist to assist with resource management. We're accommodating those requests to give producers the support they need."