Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
ALBUQUERQUE - An increase in state funding for agricultural research and grower assistance programs at New Mexico State University will help boost chile and wine production statewide while providing more educational opportunities for youth.
Although some funding requests hit roadblocks, overall NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics fared very well in the 2005 legislative session, said Dean Jerry Schickedanz.
"We didn't get everything we asked for, but the legislature gave us a real vote of confidence in terms of the variety of projects and programs that were funded," Schickedanz said. "Many items that got funding were not priorities for the college, and that means the people of New Mexico trust us to deliver on things they want done."
The legislature and the governor approved more than $1.6 million in new funding for NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station, including $917,000 for various programs and projects statewide and $730,000 in capital outlay. All told, the Experiment Station received a $12.75 million flat base budget and Extension $9.8 million.
The legislature favored three top college priorities, approving $128,250 for NMSU's Water Task Force, $175,000 for the Chile Task Force and $152,750 for a new wine grape viticulture program.
The latter two got significant funding increases compared with 2004, said Rich Phillips, the college's senior project manager. The chile appropriation grew 38 percent from $130,000 and viticulture funding doubled from $75,000.
"Given the funding increase for chile research, we'll be able to move forward with our third major project to mechanize production," Phillips said. "We've already developed prototypes for chile thinning and cleaning machines. Now, we'll work on a chile de-stemming machine that can reduce the huge production costs associated with hand processing of freshly picked chile."
The viticulture program began last year with a survey of vineyards statewide to prioritize problems producers face, as well as soil testing and chemistry experiments on New Mexico wines to see how growing techniques affect quality, Phillips said. With the funding increase, the college will hire its first viticulturist.
"The viticulturist will hit the ground running because we've already developed a good database of information," Phillips said.
For youth development and education, the 4-H program gained $76,000 in new dollars to help pay leader travel expenses and offset costs for state events. A $47,500 appropriation will allow the Las Vegas middle schools to create a new agricultural education program that will draw on NMSU expertise. And, another $100,000 appropriation will finance college efforts to help plan and design a new center for urban gardening and research and develop an agricultural high school on 400 acres of fallow land in Albuquerque's South Valley that local residents want to preserve as open land.
NMSU will also benefit from $380,000 for a new state rodeo initiative that will provide scholarships for students and training for rodeo competitors. The appropriation includes $1.1 million to improve rodeo facilities statewide.
In capital outlay, NMSU's hotel, restaurant and tourism management department received $250,000 to build a 3,000-square-foot computer lab to train students with new and evolving hospitality software. Another $130,000 appropriation will allow the college to complete construction of an 800-square-foot Food Product Development Laboratory to help companies do safety and marketability testing for new food products.
Finally, NMSU's agricultural science center at Farmington received $195,000 to hire a horticulturist, make some needed repairs and develop a long-term plan. "We need a strategic plan to deal with new issues facing San Juan County, such as a population boom that's stressing our water supplies," said Mick O'Neill, center superintendent.
Overall, Schickedanz said the legislature deposited a lot of trust in the college. "We appreciate all the support we get from citizens and legislators."
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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