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Irrigation Water Shortage Highlights Hay Conference Feb. 5-6

LAS CRUCES - Drought's potential to slash hay production will be the centerpiece of discussions at this year's Southwest Hay Conference and Trade Show, Feb. 5-6 at the Ruidoso Convention Center.



Denise McWilliams, an agronomist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, reports that hay cuttings in some drought-plagued areas of the state could drop from seven to as little as three cuttings this season. Irrigation water availability for the state's $223 million hay crop is one of the focal points for this year's Southwest Hay Conference and Trade Show, Feb. 5-6 at the Ruidoso Convention Center. (01/27/2004) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Norman Martin)

"We are looking at sharply reducing the number of hay cuttings this season because of the lack of irrigation water," said Denise McWilliams, an agronomist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "In some cases, it will drop from seven to as little as three cuttings, which has a tremendous economic impact on our hay growers."

"Early estimates on the availability of the irrigation water from the Elephant Butte and Pecos irrigation districts do not look promising," McWilliams said. In a normal year, the amount of water used for irrigating crops is measured in feet. This season's allotment will likely be measured in inches in single digits. "We need to optimize any moisture that we do get," she said.

Limited water for hay production has long-term effects on critical agricultural sectors in New Mexico, particularly for the state's burgeoning dairy and livestock operations, McWilliams said. "We've already lost a lot of the dryland wheat acreage in northeastern New Mexico to the drought, which means even more demand for hay through the rest of the winter and into the spring," she said.

Sponsored by NMSU, the New Mexico Hay Growers Association, Pioneer Hi-Bred Alfalfas, Erickson Equipment, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, Dow Agrosciences and Bayer Agriculture, the conference, which is open to the public, will be held at the convention center at 107 Sierra Blanca Drive in Ruidoso. Registration for the meeting is $25 for individuals and $50 for families prior to Feb. 4. After that, it's $30 for individuals and $60 for families.

Attractions include more than 40 supplier and manufacturer booths, along with technical and special sessions for hay producers. The New Mexico Hay Growers Association Board of Directors and the Alfalfa Advisory Committee will also hold their annual meetings, said Doug Whitney, president of the New Mexico Hay Association in Roswell.

Among the program highlights will be a review of the state's new water plan by Chuck Dumars, an attorney with the state engineer's office, as well as a homeland security presentation by Jeff Witte, director of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture's homeland and agricultural biosecurity office.

Ian Ray, an alfalfa breeder with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, will review the use of human medical technology to improve alfalfa's drought and salt tolerance. Sherry Sanderson, bureau chief of NMDA's entomology bureau, will update growers on the invasion of the white fringe beetle.

Other talks will cover legislative issues, marketing, insect control, weed management and increasing relative feed value of summer cuttings.

For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting, please contact Doug Whitney at (505) 622-8080 or Gina Sterrett at (505) 626-5677 or nmhay@yahoo.com before the event.