On March 6 the United States Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) released their preliminary report—New Mexico Agriculture Overview for 2014—indicating that in spite of an ongoing drought, farming and ranching remains a strong and driving economic force for the state.
Livestock inventories (as of Jan. 1, 2015) indicated modest growth in most sectors, especially in production of milk and milk products. New Mexico remains the 9th leading state for dairy production in the nation featuring about 323,000 milk cows.
Overall, New Mexico showed positive results for milk production in 2014 with just over 8.1 million pounds of fresh milk. Milk production per head of dairy cattle also ranked high with 25,093 pounds of milk per cow compared to the previous year's (2013) 24,944 pounds of milk per cow. Total value of milk production in New Mexico climbed to an estimated $1,515,231,000.00, slightly more than in 2013.
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Beef cow numbers for 2014, including calves, were up slightly as well, indicating slow herd growth. As of Jan. 1, 2015, there were 1,340,000 non-dairy cattle across the state. At the beginning the year, the state had an estimated 90,000 sheep including lambs and 11,000 goats but only 1,300 domestic hogs in New Mexico in 2014.
Supporting the state's progressive dairy and beef herds was a robust production of hay forage, primarily high-value alfalfa grown in the southeastern corner of the state. Thanks to beneficial rains and an extended growing season, 2014 was another good year for alfalfa producers. Those same rains provided healthy grass and multiple cuttings last year, keeping the high demand alfalfa of New Mexico popular among local and out-of-state buyers.
Last year growers produced 1,198,000 tons of hay valued at nearly $300 million. Alfalfa represented the largest share of all hay production, or 1,008,000 tons valued just over $264 million. Statewide alfalfa was harvested on 210,000 acres for an average price of about $262 a ton. Total hay production value for 2014 increased slightly over 2013 numbers.
While New Mexico's love affair with their famous green and red chile remains as strong as ever and demand runs high for authentic New Mexico chile within the state, chile acres harvested in 2014 were even less than the reduced number of acres harvested in 2013.
This year's crop value was down as a result of the smaller harvest, a trend in recent years that has chile growers and lovers alike concerned. Multiple problems assail the industry, not the least of which is a general water shortage that limits or displaces irrigation allotments early in the growing season, meaning growers must depend on groundwater pumping and fewer acres in the face of heightened market competition.
While the popularity of New Mexico chile continues to spread in and out of state, New Mexico chile growers say competition from foreign-based chile exporters and farming challenges like finding enough workers for harvest each year is quickly making chile a more speculative crop to grow.
In 2014, USDA-NASS reports 8,100 acres were planted and only 7,700 harvested. That represents a substantial drop from the 8,600 acres harvested in 2013 and 9,600 acres harvested in 2012. Final production numbers for 2014 total 58,700 tons compared to 65,000 tons the previous year. The value of New Mexico chile was estimated at $38.7 million, compared to $49.5 million the year before.
But Jaye Hawkins, executive director for the New Mexico Chile Association believes enthusiasm still runs high for the famous chile and believes special marketing programming currently underway will succeed. In addition, better brand and quality recognition will help the industry not only survive but hopefully grow again in the years ahead.
In other major crops, 65 million tons of pecans were produced in 2014 with an estimated crop value of $130 million. A total of 121,000 acres of corn was harvested in 2014; 39,900 acres of cotton were harvested; 380,000 acres of wheat was planted; 110,000 acres of grain sorghum, and 5,000 acres of peanuts.
Other interesting agriculture statistics include the average age for farmers and ranchers in the state, 60.5 years, a half-year older than last year. There were 19,994 male farmers and 4,777 female farmers in the state in 2014, the same as last year.
Ethnicity percentage of agricultural producers breaks down as follows:
American Indian 14.7
African American 0.01