Transitioning to regenerative agriculture is a valid pathway to diversify and revitalize rural economies, providing multiple co-benefits in terms of ecological, human and planetary health for all New Mexicans.
A recent analysis of New Mexico’s agriculture and food economy, commissioned by the NM Healthy Soil Working Group and prepared by the non-profit Crossroads Resource Center, paints a very sobering picture of the state’s agricultural economy. The 46-page New Mexico Farm & Food Economy assembles publicly available data on agricultural income, production expenses and information on food-related sectors, personal income, and health.
The report shows that commodity farming in New Mexico has created increasingly higher cash receipts, but due to an equal increase in production expenses, there has been no gain in net cash income for farmers over the last 50 years. The prevalent current production system requires farmers to take on more and more debt without making more profit –in fact, a staggering 70% of New Mexico farms are reporting a net loss. Sourced out of state, agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides and fungicides), petroleum products and agricultural inputs (chemical fertilizers) cost New Mexico farmers $10 billion each year, negatively affect human and environmental health in farming communities and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and soil degradation.
By contrast, regenerative agriculture is based on building soil health and an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to gain independence from costly inputs and become prosperous again. Successful regenerative producers manage the farm or ranch as part of the larger ecosystem, closely monitoring soil, plants and animals and constantly adjusting. They dare to experiment and aim to mimic rather than control nature. The principles of soil health are universal, while their application varies depending on social, cultural and ecological context. Key methodologies include cover cropping, crop rotations, no-till or low-till, planned grazing, silvopasture, composting, the use of soil inoculants and many more. Regenerative farming systems often include diversification of enterprises and favor short, resilient food chains and in-state processing, creating an exponential positive impact on local economies known as the Multiplier Effect.
With an average of 280 sunny days per year in New Mexico, the emerging and quickly expanding field of Agrivoltaics has the potential to become an additional lifeline for our state’s farmers and ranchers, providing income from solar leases while growing crops or raising livestock in among the Photovoltaics. Solar arrays can create a cooling microclimate that enhances the environment for crops such as chili, grown under regenerative management to improve soil health.
Soil health is in serious jeopardy nationwide –yet it can be restored and in doing so serve as a vital solution to many pressing challenges at once. Beyond the profitability benefits of regenerative agriculture, the ecological and social co-benefits of such a shift in management are enormous. With increasing temperatures and continuing drought, the beneficial effects on our dwindling water resources deserve special attention: healthy soils act as a sponge, absorbing and storing rainwater in the ground where it is available for plant growth and recharges groundwater and aquifers. Run-off, erosion and evaporation are greatly reduced and by filtering pollutants, healthy soil improves water quality.
Regenerative agriculture presents an antidote to the blight of rural communities, offers our youth a viable future in farming and ranching, honors traditional and Indigenous lifeways and increases production of healthy, local food. The NM Healthy Soil Working Group is bringing together New Mexicans from urban and rural areas, eaters and growers alike to make this vision of a resilient, healthy and just food system a reality. Join us!
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