An inside look at New Mexico dairying

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At the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Managers Academy in Albuquerque, NM last week Robert Hagevoort, extension dairy specialist with New Mexico State University and Sharon Lombardi with the Dairy Producers of New Mexico shared some insight on dairy farming in New Mexico.

New Mexico is home to approximately 150 dairy farms. Dairy is a leading force in the state, accounting for 44 percent of the state’s gross receipts from agriculture.

Ranking ninth in the U.S. for milk production, New Mexico shares similar characteristics with West Texas, and Arizona in regards to how dairy farms are managed. Combined West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona represent the number three milk shed in the nation. Flirting with Wisconsin for second place, notes Hagevoort.

The majority of the operations in this region are open lot dairies and a few free-stalls. The limited number of producers makes implementing new programs, such as a quality assurance program easier than other parts of the country.

The average dairy size in New Mexico is 2,200-cows. “We’ve already had our brushings with the Humane Society of the United States,” says Hagevoort. “We know that 99 percent of our farms are family owned and the term ‘factory farm,’ is completely out of line.”

Immigration weighs heavy on the minds of dairies in this region. Situated right along the Mexico border, Lombardi says they have had ranchers killed, property destroyed and animals killed. Lombardi believes the only solution is to come up with comprehensive immigration reform.

Ag credit is also another factor affecting dairies in New Mexico. Most of the facilities are highly financed, says Lombardi. And banks have tightened their belts and started to reevaluate cattle. It’s harder and harder to borrow money, she says. Like many other dairy farms across the country, many New Mexico dairy producers are in dire straits.

Air quality is another factor that could impact not only New Mexico dairy farms but dairy farmers everywhere. The question remains how much pollution does a cow really produce - as much pollution as a car, less than a car, different than a car, asks Lombardi.

Water availability and quality continues to be an issue in New Mexico. The water level in the Ogallala Aquifer is decreasing at a rapid rate. Most dairy farms have switched from growing alfalfa to corn, and now from corn to sorghum. “We’re looking at ways to grow the same dry matter with two-thirds less water,” says Hagevoort. “We believe sorghum will start playing a larger role in rations.” And, he says it’s not uncommon for dairy farms in this part of the country to have more land than water.



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