Farming for Tough Times

Editor’s Note: Frontera NorteSur’s special coverage of New Mexico is made possible in part by a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation.

As tough growing conditions confront farmers and ranchers across the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico, some rural producers and their allies are looking to innovative, sustainable practices to cope with climate change and grow healthy, local economies. In the coming weeks, New Mexico will host a series of events dedicated to fostering vibrant farming in a challenging time.

For starters, hundreds are expected to attend the annual New Mexico Organic Farming Conference scheduled February 15-16 for the Albuquerque Pyramid North Hotel. The 2013 edition of the  long-running, popular gathering will feature two intensive days of workshops and presentations on topics including pollination and organic farming, pest control, herbal product production, farm management in drought times, nut growing, goats and land restoration, acequias, holistic orchard management, marketing, and much more. At least 37 exhibitors ranging from book sellers to agricultural organizations are listed for the event.

Mace Vaughn, pollinator program director for the Xerces Society, will deliver the conference’s keynote address on organic farming and pollination.

In the lead-up to the conference, New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte noted the importance of organic farming in the state, an economic activity which netted more than $53 million in 2011.

“Organic farmers and ranchers are careful observers, bold innovators and caring stewards of the land, bringing nourishment to our citizens and conserving our soil and water resources,” Witte said in a statement published in the conference program guide. “The extreme freezes, hot winds and exceptional drought we’ve experienced have been particularly challenging in the last two years. This conference will give farmers and ranchers an opportunity to share lessons learned and to draw on the latest research…”

On the climate question, attendees will have a chance to hear the latest drought outlook from New Mexico State University’s Dr. Dave Dubois, state climatologist and collaborative weather network coordinator.

According to conference organizers:

“Every farmer and rancher seems to agree that assumptions about what the weather will be in any particular season no longer serve as a guide for planting, irrigating and harvesting. Recent studies of tree ring data by the University of Arizona’s Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) indicate that we may be entering a period of drought even more severe than the extreme droughts of the 1200s and 1500s…”

The New Mexico Organic Farming Conference is sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service and Farm to Table, a Santa Fe-based non-profit that promotes sustainable agriculture and community food systems.

Up and down the old Camino Real, the winter season will offer other upcoming events that provide opportunities to hear about the latest trends in crop production, water resources and marketing. Las Cruces will be the scene of both the annual New Mexico Chile Conference (February 4 and 5) and the Western Pecan Growers Association’s yearly conference (March 3-5).  Albuquerque will host the Vine and Wine Çonference (February  21-23) and the 18th Water Conservation and Xeriscape Expo (February 28-March 2). Santa Fe, meanwhile, will stage the New Mexico Farmers’ Markets annual conference on March 8 and March 9.

Food and farming are issues of concern at this year’s session of the New Mexico State Legislature. According to the Southwest Organizing Project and other food activists, bills that are drawing public interest include Senate Bill 80, which proposes to allocate $1.44 million for the purchase of New Mexico-grown fruits and vegetables for the state’s schools, and House Bill 56, a measure which would create community kitchens to support rural entrepreneurs. Another initiative pushed by food activists would earmark $85,000 to further promote farmers’ markets, the places where producers and consumers conduct direct commercial and knowledge exchanges.

For more information on the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, readers can contact Joanie Quinn at 505-889-9921 or write to organic@nmda.nmsu.edu

Websites with information on sustainable farming and food issues in New Mexico include the following:

http://www.farmtotablenm.org/
http://extension.nmsu.edu/
http://www.elgritonm.org/

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