Farmers in New Mexico have more recently seen increasing temperatures and decreased rainfall. From what was already a region characterized by low rainfall and typically warm weather, the state (and the region for that matter) have more recently seen sharper and sharper decreases or rain1. Because of this, the production of crops in the region is needing to be altered, but the solution to these problems is not as simple as it may seem. Also, different industries are having to deal with different consequences because of the decreasing precipitation rates. But in what ways can farmers change their entire lives just so that they can survive and make a living doing what they’re doing?
During this year, our class had the opportunity to visit 2 different ecological conferences. One of these conferences had to deal with the impacts of global warming (I believe this was the Quivira Conference) and the second had to deal mostly with how to manage our crops in this dry climate. The second conference that we visited first had a large meeting with everyone attending in a large room. The speaker in the front spoke about water harvesting, which is a key aspect of how our crop production can be improved. The speaker here talked about different instances in which he went to schools and went to different houses and communities and found out what they were doing right. What he found out is that communities that were able to harvest this water were able to do it with1) a low budget, 2) success, and 3) using very simple techniques. Not neglecting this water is a key element on what our farmers need to do, as it is free, and the purity of the water is unimportant as it will be put back into the ground for plants to utilize.
The way much of this is able to be done is using rooftops or open land to be able to channel or slow. Channeling the water off of roofs into cisterns (two are shown above) can be an effective way to capture large amounts of water. Slowing the water gives it time to seep into the ground, creating an effective way to capture the water that falls onto your land.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend a workshop in the second conference that we attended on different drought adapted plants. This workshop was fascinating to me as one of the plants that was talked about originated in India. This plant was called Guar, which is ground up and used for a process called hydraulic fracking which is essentially extraction of oil. It is also able to be consumed by humans directly, and what is the best part about it for New Mexicans is that it is safe for cattle grazing. The best part of this plant is that it has been tested by Purdue University, and they have found out that New Mexico’s environment may be changing, but it is able to support the growth of this plant, which has the potential to become a large export from New Mexico.
The other spectrum of this industry is the cattle industry. The cattle industry has had a large presence in New Mexico, as NM is home to large grasslands with edible grass for these cattle. But, with the loss of rainfall, the threat of losing these grasses is becoming more and more apparent. What is scary about this is not only will the grazing lands that are so widely used be lost, but the loss of root structure could end up recreating the Dust Bowl. Anyways, the threat to the cattle community is both legitimate and frightening for many. Fortunately, the guar plant (mentioned above) has the potential to become one of these new “grasses” as the seeds spread easily and it requires no human maintenance. Essentially, Guar could be the key to the future in New Mexico and the southwest.