New Mexico agriculture secretary to lawmakers: “Farmers, ranchers persevering amid drought”

(SANTA FE) – Agriculture is a significant contributor to New Mexico’s economy and rich cultural heritage, the state’s top agricultural official told lawmakers this week as he shared new data that paints a picture of the state’s diverse agricultural landscape.

“Farming and ranching alone contribute more than $4 billion a year to the state’s economy,” New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte explained to members of the New Mexico House Agriculture & Water Resources Committee on Wednesday.  “And that’s before you consider the extra economic impact you get when you turn raw agricultural products into value-valued products, like when chile becomes enchilada sauce and when milk becomes cheese.”

Witte presented lawmakers with copies of the 2012 New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, a 62-page booklet chock-full of agricultural data at both the state and county levels.  2012 is the latest year for which such data are available.  NMDA partners with USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service to release the annual publication.

The top 10 commodities for 2012 are cattle and calves; milk; hay; pecans; chile peppers; cotton; onions; corn grain; greenhouse/nursery crops; and wheat.

“There’s a lot to celebrate here in terms of agriculture’s contributions to New Mexico’s economy,” Witte said.  “But we also need to look beyond the data to understand what farmers and ranchers are experiencing.”

For instance, Witte explained that the reason the sale of cattle and calves was so high in 2012 was because ranchers across the state were selling off their herds in response to the worsening drought.

“While sales that year were good for the state’s economy, ranchers looking to get back into the game by buying cattle now that they have grass again face expensive prospects.”

Witte said that some farmers have responded to the drought by switching to crops that don’t require as much water.

He also reminded lawmakers that New Mexico is nationally – and, increasingly, globally – recognized for the abundance and quality of its agricultural products.  New Mexico consistently ranks among the nation’s top 10 states in the amount of chile, pecans, onions, milk, and cheese it produces.

Witte pointed out to lawmakers that the cover of the 2012 New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Bulletin features photos of New Mexico State University (NMSU) over the years.  He explained that the photos were chosen to honor the contributions NMSU has made to New Mexico agriculture over its 125-plus-year history.

To request a copy of the 2012 New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, please send an email to