NMSU Science Centers Provide Ag Industry with Solutions

New Mexico’s $3.17 billion agricultural industry is as diverse as the state’s environmental conditions. With four crop production regions, 11 plant hardiness zones, five defined watersheds, and 126 distinct soil types in New Mexico, agricultural production varies from the north to the south, and the east to the west.

As the state’s land-grant university, New Mexico State University and its College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences supports fundamental and applied research to meet the agricultural and natural resource management needs of communities in every part of the state.

The Agricultural Experimental Station is a system of scientists who work in facilities on the main campus in Las Cruces and at the 12 agricultural science and research centers located at Farmington, Mora, Clayton, Tucumcari, Clovis, Alcalde, Los Lunas, Corona, Artesia and Las Cruces.

“These science centers are located strategically throughout the state to support research in New Mexico’s varied environmental conditions, such as soil types, elevation, growing season, and water availability,” said Leslie Edgar, NMSU’s College of ACES associate dean and director of the Agricultural Experimental Station. 

“If agricultural research was confined to the Las Cruces area, the findings would not be applicable to producers around the state.” 

At these facilities, scientists are able to study practices and effects at basic and applied scientific levels in a real-world setting due to the crop fields, laboratories, and livestock facilities at the centers.

Research is focused across four broad themes – plants, animals, energy and the environment as it applies to the full spectrum of agricultural operations from the small acreage farms and ranches in north and central New Mexico, to the large acreage farms and rangeland ranches throughout New Mexico.

Don Bustos of Santa Cruz Farms in Espanola has taken the knowledge he gained from NMSU’s Sustainable Agriculture Center at Alcalde to turn the four-and-a-half acres of land his family has farmed for 400 years into a successful organic produce farm with an annual six-figure income.

“It was the research being done at Alcalde that got me into strawberries, blackberries and asparagus, which are our big money makers,” Bustos said, adding these were the top sellers of the 72 different types of produce grown on the farm.

Bustos implemented season extension techniques after viewing the demonstration greenhouses at Alcalde. “We produce hundreds of pounds of greens during the winter,” he said of the results of adopting these practices.

Improving the state’s cow/calf herd is one of the goals of NMSU research. The Tucumcari Bull Feed Efficiency Test, established in 1961 at the Rex E. Kirksey Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari, is the longest running study in the United States.

The Heckendorn family J-C Angus Ranch in Moriarty has been involved with the program for 40 years.

“As a result of the bull test, we have seen over the years tremendous progress in our herd, with improved weight gain and feed efficiency,” said John Heckendorn. “I’ve learned a lot about genetic selection and performance, which has helped make herd improvements.”

Heckendorn has also learned a lot from the science center about farming different grasses for permanent pasture.

He regularly attends Rancher Round Table meetings at the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center at Corona.

“I’ve learned a lot of useful industry practices, including nutrition, mineral and protein supplementation and vaccination protocol,” he said. 

Each science center consists of numerous faculty, staff, academic students, and season assistants who dedicate their research and educational efforts to the mission of the center.

Grassroots advisory committees of agricultural industry members and residents provide input to each center regarding the issues the producers are facing. 

“What I like most about the science centers is being a part of the Alcalde advisory group,” Bustos said. “They really listen to what the people doing the work think and say.”

Information from these conversations drive the science centers’ missions.

“During strategic planning for the center, the committee’s comments help guide the specific research aimed at improving agricultural productivity and its economic value-chain in their area,” Edgar said.

While the research projects are a major part of the centers’ activities, the faculty and staff also conduct outreach activities through field days, workshops and other information sharing such as research and Cooperative Extension Service publications.

“The mission of a land-grant university is to provide a path for ordinary citizens to gain information to advance their work, their community and the economy,” Edgar said. “These activities provide opportunities for people of all ages and skill sets to learn from the research.”

One area that NMSU and the College of ACES is very aware of is the aging agriculture producer population.

“With 59.8 as the average age of agriculture producers in our state, the centers’ staff also focus on engaging youth in farming and ranching career opportunities that range from actual farming or ranching to natural resource management,” Edgar said.

Examples are the U.S. Beef Academy at the Corona Ranch and the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium in Clovis.

All of the 12 centers in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences system do research on the agricultural and natural resources needs for the area.Each one also has some project or features unique to that center, including:

Alcalde Sustainable Agriculture Science Center
First center that carried out research on certified organic land. Features research in fruit orchards, including AmeriZao jujubes. Housed at the hacienda once owned by Carol Bishop Stanley, who also later owned Ghost Ranch.

Artesia Agricultural Science Center
Unique soil conditions of Pecos Valley cannot be replicated elsewhere, so research in other parts of state not a reliable indicator for crops in the Pecos Valley.

Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center
Livestock grazing pastures have been observed and recorded for over 80 years to measure changes without livestock influence to study the long-term nature of grazing and climate impact. No other studies of this magnitude do not exist.

Clayton Livestock Research Center
The only feedlot research facility in the western United States with a focus on animal health of ranch cattle.

Clovis: Agricultural Science Center
Valencia peanut breeding. About 60 percent of the Valencia peanut acreage is dominated by varieties developed by NMSU. The Valencia peanut industry adds $4.5 million to the state economy annual.

Corona Range and Livestock Research Center
A 28,000-acre self-sustaining working ranch laboratory where research is conducted on a larger-scale.

Farmington: Agricultural Science Center
Only NMSU science center west of the Continental Divide and only 1862 land-grant to work directly on sovereign First Nations – Navajo – land. Unique research includes potatoes, hops and hemp.

Las Cruces: Fabian Garcia Research Center and Leyendecker Plant Science Center
NMSU main campus experimental farms where a wide range of plant breeding research is conducted, including New Mexico chile peppers. 

Los Lunas: Agricultural Science Center
Located 20 miles south of Albuquerque allows for unique urban programing from on-site faculty, including Urban Integrated Pest Management and Urban Horticulture specialists. Soil conditions, ranging from very sandy to very heavy clay, allows for broad applicability of research results on projects conducted on diverse planting media.

Mora: John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center
Only research program in the southwest United States that focuses on forest nursery technologies, tree improvement and ecophysiology of young forest trees to facilitate ecological restoration, especially forests. Largest producers of forest seedlings in the US Southwest with a current capacity of 300,000 per year, primarily used to restore forest after severe wildfires and mining operations.

Tucumcari: Rex E. Kirksey Agricultural Science Center
Infrastructure to conduct both crop and livestock research, including the Tucumcari Bull Feed Efficiency Test. Tucumcari Irrigation Project, in partnership with the City of Tucumcari and the New Mexico Water Trust Board, is permitted to reuse treated municipal wastewater for irrigation. – By Jane Moorman, New Mexico State University
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