NMSU gets $20M for next generation of agricultural leaders

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Farmers, like Glen Duggins in Socorro, will tell you they’re facing a dilemma.

“Our stores are empty now. The produce aisle is never full anymore,” Duggins stated.

As Duggins and other farmers get older, they ponder a big question:

Who will grow our country’s food when we’re gone?

“I hope my son will continue. I have two granddaughters that are getting interested in farming and one grandson a year old,” Duggins said.

A Census report shows the average age of farmers is 58 years old.

The big reason young farmers leave is high land prices. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report shows farmland inflation rates increased 150% between 2004 and 2018.

“The land owns the farmer, should the farmer own the land,” farmer Lowell Schachtsiek said.

The return on investment is also pretty slim.

“Probably one and a half to two percent or something like that,” Schachtsiek said.

Recently, the USDA awarded a $20 million grant to New Mexico State University. Hispanic students interested in a career in agriculture will get some help this semester from that.

From NMSU professor Clint Loest’s perspective, this will bridge the gap between farming and Hispanic farmers.

“We also know that there’s actually an ethnic disparity among ag degrees and recipients and the United States workforce. So it’s really important that we have a good representation of Hispanics in essential positions,” Professor Loest said.

Although chile crops are a defining feature of the New Mexico agriculture sector, the sector extends beyond that.

“In New Mexico, we produce 80% of the nation’s onions in the summer months. Agriculture is one of our leading contributors to the economic viability within the state,” said Shannon Norris-Parish, a professor at NMSU.

In the first year of that $20 million grant, NMSU will provide scholarships to approximately 15 undergraduate students.

They hope it will widen the field for farmers.

“It would make me very happy to know that they could continue to farm in the future,” Duggins expressed.