The summer of 2013 has the potential to be the worst drought that New Mexico has ever seen. The Canadian River Watershed in northeastern New Mexico, which provides irrigation water to Arch Hurley Conservancy District farmers, has seen no irrigation water in six out of the last 12 years. Ranchers across the state reduced their herds to 25 percent of their previous size, and sold thousands of acres of land and livestock to just barely pay the bills.
Earlier this month the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack cautioned farmers against extreme weather and its potentially catastrophic impacts on the agricultural economy, stating the need for adaptation and new, sustainable farming practices. As a southwestern state, New Mexico is even more vulnerable to becoming a victim of climate change. If we continue on this path, very soon there will be little to no agricultural economy left in a state that was created on the backs of the western farmer and rancher.
The farming community is doing our best to both mitigate climate change, as well as adapt to the ever-changing conditions by being more efficient and sustainable. However, we cannot do it alone, we need help from the energy sector to make this a reality.
Oil use in our cars, trucks and farm equipment is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after power plants. That means oil alternatives must become a national priority – specifically the investment in and production of renewable fuels. The only way to slow the advancement of climate change is to change our energy policies and begin, in earnest, to supplement fossil fuels.
Homegrown renewable fuels are being used today; renewable fuel already provides roughly 10 percent of the fuel needs in the United States and that number is growing. According to a 2011 International Energy Agency report, the use of certain grasses and feedstocks as fuel can decrease emissions by up to 60 percent compared to gasoline.
The path toward energy independence is already a priority for New Mexico. Over the last several years we have invested in solar, wind, geothermal and biodiesel projects. Ethanol and advanced renewable fuels, made from things like grasses and algae, have the potential to move us away from oil and we in New Mexico are already taking the next step.
Policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard allow for the growth of the renewable fuel industry in a market dominated primarily by oil. The standard grants us the flexibility to grow our own market share in the renewable fuel industry, creating jobs right here in New Mexico while also contributing to solve the larger problem of climate change.
Utilizing our ability to grow in a semi-arid desert, we are well positioned to contribute to statewide fuel needs and boost the agricultural economy. Farmers throughout the state have prioritized crops like sorghum, both a livestock feed and used to produce ethanol. The combination of feeding and fueling is a cost-effective solution to meet multiple consumer needs every day.
Furthermore, New Mexican farmers are working hard to make the most out of their land, often growing products with multiple benefits and uses. For example, the corn that is used for renewable fuel also produces an extremely nutritious and high-value animal feed using a byproduct of ethanol called dried distillers grain. Over one-third of the corn used in ethanol production returns to the food system in the form of dried distillers grain. Last year alone, more than 39 million metric tons of animal feed was produced at ethanol plants around the country.
Not only are farmers driving the development and production of renewable fuel to combat climate change, we use the byproducts to vitalize the industry
We cannot afford to stand by and watch as our fields literally dry out from under us. Agriculture is one of the leading industries in New Mexico, providing jobs for over a hundred thousand people. We cannot let fossil fuels continue to dictate and change our home, our climate or our economy. The solution is something we have the ability to grow ourselves.