Blessed with fertile soil and wide-open spaces, farmers and ranchers in our region have made a living off the land for more than 2,500 years. Today, New Mexico continues its rich legacy of agriculture and environmental stewardship as one of the top-producing states for livestock and crops like chile, hay, pecans and onions.
While today’s farmers and ranchers are subject to a flurry of laws and regulations on the federal, state and local level, the agricultural industry is vulnerable to non-industry regulations that increase the cost for us to do business.
Unfortunately, new regulations proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department to regulate methane emissions related to oil and natural gas activity in the state could adversely impact New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers.
The draft rules call for covers on all evaporation ponds, which store produced water until it can be reused during hydraulic fracturing. Similar requirements have been proposed in other states for agriculture ponds but ultimately abandoned because they were determined to be impractical and nearly impossible from an engineering standpoint.
Many oil and gas companies that operate in New Mexico are pushing to use more recycled water — efforts that should be encouraged, not impeded by regulations that make it more expensive or outright impossible.
Without the ability to utilize available amounts of produced water, oil and gas companies will be forced to purchase freshwater barrels in the marketplace — leaving less water available for farms and other beneficial uses. Regulations designed to protect the environment should not encourage the needless further depletion of New Mexico’s freshwater resources.
Regulations like this create a false dichotomy — pitting two of our state’s largest industries against one another to compete for precious resources. However, agriculture and energy have a symbiotic relationship: we rely on energy to power farming and ranching equipment, manufacture fertilizer, and move products. And everyone needs to eat.
As people who make their living off the land, no one understands better the importance of being good stewards of water and wildlife than farmers and ranchers. The New Mexico agricultural community believes regulations should be driven by sound science and data and be considerate of economic impacts. The smallest of regulations can have the biggest impacts on our nation’s rural communities — especially family farms that are often only one bad season away from bankruptcy.
Though the state’s agricultural industry is vast — supporting approximately 48,300 jobs and more than $5.9 billion in economic output for our state — roughly 92 percent of farms and ranches are family or individually owned and 35 percent have less than nine acres of land.
As New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers work around the clock to keep our grocery stores stocked and food on our tables, many are struggling amid rising costs for land, labor, fuel, equipment and other production needs. In fact, of the 25,044 farms in our state, more than 70 percent reported net losses in 2017, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.
As we build a future of sustainable food, fiber and fuel supply, New Mexico deserves a regulatory framework that supports the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Chad Smith is CEO of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.
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