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Census to Count Indian Farms

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    How many Indian farmers are there in New Mexico?
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it knows of about 400 and thinks there are about 2,000 more.
    New Mexico State University's agricultural agents and administrators say there are many more. An NMSU minority outreach coordinator believes as many as 10,000 Native Americans farm in New Mexico.
    To address the conflict, the USDA is gathering together a task force to scour New Mexico and get a complete count of every Native American who meets the feds' definition of operating a farm.
    "We'd like to get the count right. We want to get the most accurate picture," said Rich Allen, deputy administrator for programs and projects in the National Agriculture Statistics Service, the USDA branch that counts farmers.
    In its latest agriculture census of the nation, the USDA said that of a total of 15,231 farms in New Mexico 430 were identified as operated by American Indians. In an appendix, the agency estimated there were about 2,500 Native American-operated farms, based on reports from reservations about their agricultural programs.
    In order to be included in the agriculture census, farmers must fill out a detailed questionnaire. And in order for them to fill out the forms, the agency has to have identified them and sent them the forms.
    Edmund Gomez, who directs NMSU's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project, an outreach program that includes Indian farmers, said the federal agency didn't try hard enough to track down tribal members involved in agriculture.
    Allen said the agency sent census forms to Indian farmers whose names and addresses they could obtain and asked tribal governments to help them enumerate others.
    "Every one of our state statisticians made every effort to work with tribal governments to try to get names and addresses," Allen said. "We went to the reservations and talked to knowledgeable people."
    Gomez said he can identify more than 2,500 farmers by name at the pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache reservation. He said he believes there are between 3,000 and 5,000 farmers on the pueblos, Jicarilla and the Mescalero Apache reservation and another 3,000 to 5,000 on Navajo lands in New Mexico.
    "They work out of Las Cruces and Washington, D.C. I work out in the field," said Gomez, who is based in Alcalde. "I know."
    Allen said he doubts it.
    "I don't think it's going to be anywhere near that," Allen said. "I think it's going to end up being about 2,500 farms."
    To qualify as a farmer under the USDA census, someone must have crops or livestock that could produce $1,000 in income in a year.
    Gomez said he is concerned that undercounting of Indian farmers in New Mexico results in fewer federal funds coming here for cooperative extension programs and state experiment stations.