New Mexico agriculture leaders discuss solution to aging farm, ranch operators

An aging agriculture producer population was the main concern aired at the second in a series of listening sessions by the state’s top agricultural leaders.

New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Dean Rolando A. Flores and New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte led a lively conversation regarding what is being done to recruit future agricultural producers.

“The average age of New Mexico agricultural producers is 60 and a half years old, which is older than the national average of 58,” Flores said. “It is critical that we recruit younger people into the profession. We are focused on recruiting students into our college. Especially, we need to increase the Hispanic and Native American students.”

Besides learning about the recruiting efforts of the College of ACES, the audience was informed about the Grow the Growers program in Bernalillo County that is training people how to raise fruits and vegetables.

Flores was asked what the College of ACES is doing, in addition to the traditional 4-H programs, to introduce agriculture to youth ages 10 to 13. He asked the Cooperative Extension Service agents present to talk about the statewide New Mexico Youth Ranch Management Camp; Valencia County Extension’s Food Camp for Kids, Dairy Camp and Beef Heifer Development Project; and Bernalillo County Extension’s 4-H program on Kirtland Air Force Base and the two Albuquerque Public Schools designated as 4-H schools, since all students participate in the program.

“These programs are some examples of what we are doing,” Flores said. “They are localized in certain areas, at this time, but we are moving toward having these types of programs all over the state.”

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture is introducing people ages 18 to 40 to agriculture through its AgriFuture Educational Institute program held every other year.

“We have a tremendous amount of people in their 40s and 50s who are coming back to production agriculture,” Witte said. “About one-third of our participants at the AgriFuture Educational Institute are over 40 and want to enter agriculture.”

Preparing future agriculture professionals is the purpose of NMSU’s College of ACES.

“Our biggest challenge is how to prepare our future graduates for jobs that do not exist now,” Flores said of the rapidly changing technology associated with agriculture. “One way we are addressing this is by improving our facilities on campus.”

Flores outlined projects included in the general obligation bond election in November, including a Biomedical Research Center, a Food Science Security and Safety Learning Facility and an Animal Nutrition and Feed Manufacturing Facility.

“The 2018 GO bond projects to be voted on by New Mexicans in November of this year are vital for the future of New Mexico’s agriculture and food industries,” Flores said. “The goal is to have a big push for agriculture in two major areas: food safety and security and generation of value-added from agricultural products by developing the foods of the future. These two components, properly supported, can convert Southern New Mexico into a hub for the nation’s food safety and security and can bolster economic and community development in New Mexico.”

This is the second year the two leaders have hosted listening sessions across New Mexico to hear from farmers and ranchers. This year’s series will conclude July 18 in Alamogordo at the Otero County Cooperative Extension Service office, 401 Fairgrounds Road. The event will begin at 6 p.m.