During the past election, the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District (Grant SWCD) Supervisors were challenged to tell their story. This is the second offering. The first featured the Upper Gila Arroyo Watershed District. This article will try to explain the District’s relationship with agriculture.
The purposes of Soil and Water Districts are many, but an important purpose is the support of production agriculture. When the federal agency Soil Conservation Service, (now the Natural Resources and Conservation Services or NRCS) was first established during the Dust Bowl, it was not well received. Farmers didn’t want the government coming to their house and telling them how to farm. The Franklin Roosevelt Administration created the Soil and Water Districts, a publicly elected board of citizens to partner with NRCS and gain the trust of local producers. This partnership, which in New Mexico includes the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, is known as the Conservation Partnership.
The USDA Agricultural Statistics for 2015 determined that overall agricultural cash receipts for Grant County were $31,526,914,000. The bulk of these dollars came from cattle at $24,769,219,000. The remaining $6,768,219,000 was derived from everything from hay sales to commercial hunting to firewood. These agricultural commodities support value added products such as food, fiber and meat processing, as well as local farmers markets. This industry makes Ag tourism possible. Events such as the Cliff-Gila Grant County Fair and the Mimbres Harvest Festival bring dollars to our communities and celebrate the industry. Producers make substantial purchases of local goods and services. Agriculture contributes over 500 jobs in Grant county along with many part-time and family supported jobs and income. Agriculture is at the heart of many local communities’ identity. Grant SWCD supports Grant County’s ability to supply local food and fiber to our citizens.
What does the Conservation Partnership actually do? We provide the technical support to improve efficiency, mostly regarding water, to keep farming and ranching profitable and reduce the impacts to our natural resources. Irrigation water is conserved by laser leveling of fields and cement lining of ditches. Water is piped to remote regions of ranches for livestock and wildlife. Large pastures are fenced to facilitate rest rotation grazing. The Conservation Partnership provides the framework that can access financial support. Many of these practices are beyond the reach of individual producers. Food in the United States is abundant and relatively inexpensive. The Conservation Partnership can claim a small amount of credit for that fact.
Grant SWCD teams with the Grant County Extension Service to provide applied agricultural research programs that enrich youth activities and promote occupations that can remain in rural areas.
Sixty-one percent of Grant County is State and Federal land. In fact, the financial viability of many Grant County ranches depends on federal leases. Agriculture and the health of our watersheds is interrelated. The Conservation Partnership coordinates with the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the NM State Land Office and agricultural producers on issues of natural resource management.