Farmers and ranchers in New Mexico shared their ideas and concerns with top New Mexico agricultural officials during the first of three listening sessions.
New Mexico Department of Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte and New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Dean Rolando A. Flores conducted the listening session March 24 in Portales during the annual New Mexico Ag Expo.
Topics of discussion ranged from the public’s perception of agriculture and the national Farm Bill to agricultural resources for middle school students, genetically modified organisms and the status of the college’s Agricultural Experiment Station, which leads the research activity for the college.
“We had a great turn out and it was important to hear from our constituents on their thoughts for agriculture,” Witte said. “Especially interesting to me was the emphasis on telling ag’s story – developing better communication platforms for producers to engage the public. In the past, producers have not been as interested in telling their story, but they see the need to educate the public about where food comes from.”
“People at the session expressed concern about the negative public perception that exists about agriculture and the lack of knowledge people have about what growers endure,” he said. “There was also interest in looking at how agriculture contributes to the state’s economy.”
Flores said the wide variety of topics discussed gave them good insight into priorities of the state’s producers and gave the College of ACES the opportunity to explain the evaluation process it is going through with the Agricultural Science Research Centers.
“In a time of low budgets, we need to rationalize and properly manage our resources and efforts with the input of the New Mexico stakeholders,” Flores said.
“People spoke about the need for educating the general public about GMOs, in particular the need to dispel the myths,” he said. “There was discussion on the benefits of applied research for the state, how much is needed by industry, and how the college’s different Agricultural Science Centers, located around state, are valuable because of the type of research they do.”
Witte said the sessions provide an important opportunity for the two leaders to stay connected to those they serve and to reinforce their thoughts on where agriculture is going in New Mexico.
“The interesting thing is that both of us are very accessible and spend a lot of time meeting with our producers, processors and consumers on a regular basis, both formally and informally, and we continue to receive good information every time we get together,” Witte said. “In periods of limited budgets, and we always have limited budgets, we need to make sure we are addressing their priorities.”
With the first listening session reaching out primarily to agricultural producers in Eastern New Mexico, two more are scheduled in other parts of the state.
On July 18, a listening session will be held in the Rio Arriba County fair building in Abiquiu. On Nov. 2, the third listening session will be in the Dona Ana County administration building on Motel Drive in Las Cruces.
Witte said he is looking forward to the next sessions as an opportunity to continue getting good feedback on current priorities and a look at future needs.
“Agriculture in New Mexico is evolving,” he said. “We are the second-oldest state in the nation, based on the age of our agricultural producers. The next generation is coming on strong and what do we need to do to enhance that transition? We are also seeing new markets develop, at the local, national and international level. Many opportunities come with challenges. We are interested in learning what the college and the department can do to help our state address the challenges and thrive in agriculture.”
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