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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Kellogg Project Helps Rural Families

LAS CRUCES -- Farming and ranching in north central New Mexico hasn't been easy lately. High altitudes make for short growing seasons. Years of subdivision have left behind small parcels of farmland that often can't sustain the region's families, and development and soaring land prices have made it hard for some operations to continue.

However, rural residents in the 11-county area can get help starting or staying in business from the Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project or RAIPAP, funded in 1991 by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

"Our clientele are the small-farm, limited-resource ranchers and farmers in this area," said Edmund Gomez, the project's director with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "We also work with grassroots agricultural organizations and small marketing and entrepreneurial groups."

Kellogg recently extended the five-year project for another three years. In addition, the New Mexico legislature this year approved recurring funding, making RAIPAP a permanent part of Extension. The project is housed at NMSU's Sustainable Agricultural Science Center at Alcalde.

"RAIPAP does rural community development work in four different areas -- sustainable agriculture, food processing and marketing, small business development, and organizational and leadership skills," Gomez said.

In sustainable agriculture, farmers work to keep their operations running in the present while maintaining their natural resources for the future.

Del Jimenez has worked as RAIPAP's agricultural specialist for the past 18 months. He helps farmers make the most of their resources by setting up on-farm demonstrations using the latest research information. He currently runs more than 50 such projects that show first-hand such information as new vegetable and pasture grass varieties, and grazing and fencing techniques.

Gomez said, "In demonstration projects, we take research results from the Experiment Stations and apply them directly to the small farms."

Some farmers have used the same varieties of vegetable and forage crops for years. "In the demonstrations, we plant old varieties and the new, proven varieties, so farmers can make a comparison and see what's becoming outdated," Jimenez said. "The farmers can't afford to take the chance and experiment by themselves."

For example, Jimenez is helping a small farmer in Tierra Amarilla with a demonstration that could develop into a high-value cash crop. "The Experiment Station has done a lot of work with asparagus, which is an excellent crop for our cool climate, and the demonstration is helping spread the information," Jimenez said.

In Canjilon, the 8,000-foot elevation means winters are long and severe. Livestock producers rely heavily on hay for supplemental feeding. Jimenez said RAIPAP's high-altitude alfalfa variety demonstration could help growers produce nutritious forage for supplemental feeding or commercial sale.

Gomez said another important project is taking place in Costilla and Amalia where more small grains were produced in the 1930s and 1940s than any other place in the state. Later, the area lost a generation of farmers to the mining industry. When that industry closed down 10 years ago, rural residents again wanted to turn to the land to make a living.

"As the years progressed, thousands of acres in that area were idle and most of it grew back into sagebrush and grasslands," Gomez said. "We've gone in and helped teach them some farming skills. Last year they produced more than 200 acres of small grains, and they've got a strong co-op started now."
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