New Mexico farmers taking novel approaches amid drought, new data shows


Media contact: Longino Bustillos
New Mexico State Statistician
USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service

Media contact: Katie Goetz
Public Information Officer
New Mexico Department of Agriculture

USDA data released today completes picture first seen in February

(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) – Evenas the drought wears on, New Mexico’s agricultural community is diversifying in terms of the kinds of products it grows and in the way it sells its products, according to new federal data released today.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) revealed in the final results of the 2012 Agriculture Census that, in New Mexico:

  • The number of farms selling directly to their customers increased by 19 percent
  • The number of farms producing nursery, greenhouse, flowers, and sod increased 56 percent
  • New Mexico farmers are planting a wider variety of higher-value specialty crops like vegetables, pecans, and melons

 USDA’s last Agriculture Census was conducted in 2007.

 “The Census of Agriculture provides a wide range of demographic, economic, land, and crop and livestock production information that are only available every five years,” said New Mexico Statistician Longino Bustillos, whose NASS office in Las Cruces oversees outreach efforts, as well as data collection and interpretation, related to the Agriculture Census in New Mexico.

USDA defines a farm as “as any place that produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the Census year.”  In other words, USDA’s definition of “farms” includes farms, ranches, and other businesses selling agricultural products.

As expected, the 397 pages of New Mexico-specific data also bear the mark of the ongoing drought.  That fact was most noticeable in the 2012 inventories of beef and dairy cattle as compared to the 2007 inventories, as well as in the increased farm expenses such as livestock feed and farm inputs.  As a further reflection of the drought – and of increased Census participation among small farms – the average net cash income per farm dropped from $17,558 in 2007 to $9,501 in 2012.

Taken together, these data highlights suggest that farmers and ranchers are looking for ways to maximize their returns on less water by selling higher-value crops via a wider variety of channels.

“While these are challenging times in agriculture, it’s really interesting to see the shift in dynamic.  New Mexico producers are resilient and resourceful,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte.

Other highlights include that 97 percent of the state’s farms are family-owned.  On a national level, Dona Ana County ranks as the top county in pecan acreage; New Mexico ranks third behind only Texas and Georgia in pecan acreage per state.  Dona Ana, Luna, and Sierra rank in the top five counties in the nation in chile acreage.

The final Census results released today add detail to the portrait first outlined by preliminary data released in February.  Those results showed an increase in the number of farms, young farmers, minority farmers rising in New Mexico – news that was widely trumpeted across the state and the country.

Agriculture organizations and agencies are looking to build on the trend of increasing diversity by hosting a conference this month for beginning and future farmers, ranchers, and those looking to carve out other careers in agriculture. 

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them.  The data help farmers, ranchers, policymakers, agribusiness and a host of others make decisions for the future.

For more information about the Census, visit  Click here for more information about and to register for the 2014 AgriFuture Educational Institute happening in Albuquerque, May 12-14.