New Mexico creates agricultural institute to prepare future farmers, ranchers, agribusiness leaders

AgriFuture to be hosted in Albuquerque, May 12-14

(ALBUQUERQUE) – Agricultural organizations and agencies in New Mexico are looking to expand upon an exciting new trend: more young people are taking up farming, ranching, and other careers in agricultural production in the Land of Enchantment.

New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and a dozen other agencies and organizations involved in New Mexico agriculture are coordinating and hosting the 2014 AgriFuture Educational Institute for beginning/future farmers and ranchers, as well as those aiming for other careers in agriculture.  The institute will be hosted May 12-14 in Albuquerque.

“The goal of the AgriFuture Educational Institute is to inform, inspire, and connect the people who will produce our food and fiber going forward,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte.  “And how the Institute aims to achieve that lofty goal is by bringing together future ag producers and current ag producers, and really facilitating a conversation among that diverse group.”

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture released by USDA last month, New Mexico saw an increase in the number of people age 34 and younger who are agricultural producers, from 818 in 2007 to 1,200 in 2012.  At the same time, the census showed a slight uptick in the average age of farmers in New Mexico from 59.6 years old in 2007 to 60.5 years old in 2012.

“Taken together, what those two statistics tell us is that we’re headed in the right direction in terms of getting more young people into agriculture, but that we still have work to do,” Witte said.

Access to land and capital are often said to be the major roadblocks for young people who want to join the ranks of today’s farmers and ranchers.  Witte said that topic will be one of many addressed in the breakout session piece of the institute.  Then attendees will board several buses to take private tours of a wide variety of agricultural businesses in and around Albuquerque.

“New Mexico depends on agriculture, and thus we depend on future generations getting involved with the entire spectrum of agriculture from farming and ranching to banking to teaching to communications and much, much more,” said Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, one of the institute’s organizers and sponsors.  “[AgriFuture] hopes to expose young people to the wide range of possibilities.”

The institute is open to future agricultural producers age 40 and under; veterans are encouraged to attend.  It is also open to current agricultural producers of all ages in hopes that they will serve as mentors going forward.  Witte said the idea of community is critical in agriculture, because people often develop their best practices on the farm or ranch by talking with others rather than by, say, reading a handbook.

The registration fee for future agriculture producers is only $50 for the Institute, while the fee for current agriculture producers (those who can potentially mentor beginning farmers and ranchers) is only $100.  Institute activities are also being funded in part by such sponsors as Farm Credit of New Mexico, which is also helping organize the institute.

“Farm Credit of New Mexico is passionate about youth and their development in agriculture,” said Al Porter, president and CEO of Farm Credit of New Mexico.  “This conference is a great way for us to all work together to make sure future agriculturists are prepared to enhance rural New Mexico.”

In addition to NMDA, Cattle Growers’, and Farm Credit, institute organizers include Ag New Mexico Farm Credit; New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau; New Mexico Beef Council; Dairy Producers of New Mexico; New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc.; New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Districts; New Mexico State University-Cooperative Extension Service; USDA-Farm Service Agency’s New Mexico office; USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s New Mexico office; and USDA-Rural Development’s New Mexico office.

The institute agenda and registration are available at our homepage.  People can also join the Facebook event page to stay tuned for institute updates and connect with other attendees.  If you wish to help sponsor the institute in any amount, you are asked to call NMDA at 575-646-3702.