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Report: Healthy soil, local food systems key for NM agriculture

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Jose Pasilla weeds a green chile field near Salem in early May.

Healthy soil is drought-resistant and produces more nutritious food.

And New Mexico “could gain economically by building soil health and feeding its own people,” reads the “New Mexico Farm & Food Economy” report from the Crossroads Resource Center.

New Mexico farmers spend about $480 million each year buying out-of-state livestock feed, fertilizers, chemicals and petroleum products, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Rising production costs mean that net cash income for the state’s farmers “has held essentially steady” for the last 50 years.

“We have a serious situation where virtually all the agricultural products in the state are leaving,” said Christina Allday-Bondy, a founder of the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group, which commissioned the report along with the Climate Change Leadership Institute.

The group issued several recommendations based on the findings. They include expanding the New Mexico Healthy Soil program, which gives the New Mexico Department of Agriculture money for soil projects and education.

New Mexico should help producers improve soil and grow their own feed, said Isabelle Jenniches, a co-founder of the working group and a board member of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council.

“The hay that you feed your herd in the winter is one of the biggest expenses for New Mexico ranchers,” Jenniches said. “If you have healthy soil, you can grow more food on your own land.”

The report notes that New Mexico farmers sell about $3.1 billion of food products every year. But New Mexicans spend $6.5 billion annually on food grown outside of the state.

Expanding NMDA’s “$5 at a Time” campaign could boost farmer income, the report said. The initiative encourages New Mexicans to spend $5 each week on food grown in the state.

Jenniches said investing in local food and water systems could address health inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Soil health is resilience. It is food security in emergency situations as well as for the long term,” she said. “Healthy soil equals healthier food, and healthier food equals better health overall.”

Also included in the recommendations are a state Farm to Food Bank initiative, expansion of the SNAP Double Up Food Bucks program, continued funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the creation of a New Mexico public bank that could provide low-interest loans to farmers who are building healthy soil.

“We want our farmers and ranchers to be successful,” Allday-Bondy said.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


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