Albuquerque Region Harvests Growth From Ag Industry
Agriculture and processing plants bolster state and rural economies
New Mexico now boasts 170 dairies and the largest herd sizes in the United States. The state ranks seventh nationally in dairy production.
With a flourishing dairy industry, a developing wine industry and chile production that can only be described as hot, agriculture is a dynamic, diverse and – yes – growing part of New Mexico’s economy.
The growth has been fueled by value-added agriculture – transforming crops or livestock into products of greater worth.
Take the dairy industry, for instance. Burgeoning cheese production has propelled it to new heights, says I. Miley Gonzalez, director of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
Two of the nation’s largest cheese production facilities are now operating in the state: a Southwest Cheese plant that opened in Clovis in October 2006, and a Leprino Foods plant in Roswell that opened in 1994 and is the top U.S. producer of mozzarella cheese.
Accordingly, New Mexico’s estimated 170 dairies now boast the largest herd sizes in the country. Since 1990, milk production in New Mexico has increased 400 percent, with milk sales contrib uting $2.7 billion annually to the state’s economy annually.
“Our dairy industry is No. 7 in the country. Ten years ago, we were No. 37,” Gonzalez says.
New Mexico’s got milk and much more.
In the central part of the state, for example, Torrance County is an especially productive agricultural area, with harvests of crops that include pinto beans, corn, pumpkins and alfalfa hay.
Statewide, hay is the No. 1 crop, Gonzalez says. With cash receipts of nearly $1.3 billion in 2004, the state produces enough hay to support its dairy industry, with some left for export, he says.
Supple and fiery, the red and green pods of chile produced by New Mexico farmers are likely the state’s most recog nizable crop. Chile, too, has become a value-added product in New Mexico, as producers and other entrepreneurs have brought processing and packaging enterprises into the state.
“In the case of chile, we’re talking about a $130 million to $140 million crop,” Gonzalez says. “With the pro cessing and other value-added pieces, it’s about a $400 million enterprise.”
The production of fuel from farm products and byproducts can mean even greater potential to add value to New Mexico crops. “The beauty of the new environment in terms of technology and science is that we now see the opportunity to take corn or soybeans or canola – or maybe new crops – and convert them to energy,” Gonzalez says.
Looking ahead, he says continued growth is likely in the dairy and wine industries. The state’s climate and costs of production make it attractive for vineyards and wineries, including clusters around Albuquerque and Corrales (see story, page 70). “In fact, I’ve had conversations with two or three different people recently about putting in more vineyards.”
Gonzalez also sees a bright future for New Mexico’s pecans and other nut crops, onions, and nursery products such as cut flowers, shrubs, and native and ornamental plants.
“Agriculture is a dynamic engine for economic development in New Mexico, rural New Mexico in particular,” he says.