Many of us are too young to remember, but history shows us that many current farm bill programs emerged from lessons learned during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s – lessons that an entire generation of Americans would never forget. Years of unsustainable agricultural practices helped create one of the worst disasters in our nation’s history. Out of that experience, farmers, ranchers and the public came together to improve agricultural practices and design government programs to heal the land.
Since then, farm bill programs have become an essential part of our agricultural system and economy. The programs touch almost every aspect of New Mexico’s $3 billion agricultural industry, providing almost $1 billion in investments to ease access to credit, support a stable farm safety net, and promote growth in new markets. For generations, the farm bill has helped our producers grow affordable food, build resilient businesses, and conserve lands and natural resources.
In New Mexico, the strength of our state and local economies and well-being of our communities depend on stable farms and ranches. Farm bill conservation programs have funded more than $544 million dollars in collaborative efforts that have empowered producers to do more with less while keeping food prices affordable.
Farm bill funding is spent on our people and in our communities, too. Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has invested more than $719 million in rural communities in our state. Farm bill programs provide food for the children and low-income seniors who do not have enough, and they amplify our efforts to build more affordable housing, start businesses, create jobs and build stronger communities.
Farm bill programs are also essential in preserving the iconic landscapes that serve as the foundation of our local and regional economies. Whether it is improving our water supplies or protecting wildlife, restoring forest health, protecting fragile soils or improving rangeland, the work farmers and ranchers do through the farm bill supports a better environment for all.
Recently, the federal administration proposed a budget outlining severe cuts that could compromise some of the farm bill programs we use most. If enacted, the proposal would be a significant blow to New Mexico’s farms, ranches, rural economies, children and low-income seniors. It would limit our ability to conserve and restore the land, water and other natural resources essential to all of us today and to future generations.
And that’s why during the 2018 session, New Mexico’s Legislature unanimously passed a memorial encouraging our Congressional delegation to stand in strong support of continuing vital farm bill funding for our state.
Our Legislature’s memorial is a bipartisan recognition of the important role the farm bill has played throughout the state. Our Legislature should be commended for its willingness to stand together with the people of New Mexico to fight for these proven programs. We strongly urge our Congressional delegation to follow their bipartisan lead and do the same.
As Congress begins its work on the next farm bill, we urge our delegation to follow the New Mexico Legislature’s example and stand up against any efforts to cut vital farm bill programs that are essential to the vibrancy of our agricultural economy and rural communities.
Nelson Shirley owns and manages the Spur Lake Cattle Company in New Mexico and serves as vice-chair, and Lesli Allison as executive director, of the Western Landowners Alliance, established by landowners in 2011 to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. WLA members steward approximately 14 million acres of deeded and leased public land in the American West.