To The Point

by Caren Cowan

A New Year …

As we embark on a new year, there is much to be positive about. Cattle prices are reaching new highs on an almost weekly basis. With the promise of moisture in the weeks and months to come, many are retaining heifers so the rebuild of the cow herd may be beginning.

A growing cow herd will begin to bring prices down but it will be years before cow numbers are back to pre-drought levels. But that is assuming that the drought is over. Most places had good rains in the past several months. Hoping we will get the snow needed for a good spring and the rains will carry through to next summer. If they don’t, those heifers held over the winter will be for sale pretty quickly.

This outlook is nothing new. It is one we have lived through year after year for generations. We live in an arid climate that provides cyclical rains and droughts . . . and more years of drought than rain. It is tempting to go into the whole global warming/climate change debate but I will resist. Suffice it to say that I have lived through several severe droughts when I watched Daddy, Uncle Bill and Granddaddy struggle to keep feed and water in front of the cattle and to weather the physical, mental and emotional toll that kind of stress takes on men. There are still pictures in the family of the shipping pens in Douglas when Cochise County ranchers shipped their herds to Mexico to save the genetics.

If markets and weather were all ranchers needed to worry about, we would be sitting pretty. Not so much.

The pressures are many ranging from wolves and snakes, to mice and prairie chickens, to control of every drop of water in the country and more. Undoubtedly agriculture will survive but it is going to take everyone pulling together. We are well known for circling the wagons, aiming our guns . . . and firing inward.

Rachel Thomas has long used the motto “Imagine what we can get done if no one cares who gets the credit” or something close to that. It is my hope that we can all embrace that thought and take the fight to our detractors.

We can no longer take on these issues a piece at a time. We must have a greater vision and find the funding to step back and take a global approach to the federal overreach that has been eating us alive. There are those among us who have that vision. Now all we need is the funding. If you’d like to be a part of the solution, please email me at nmcga@nmagriculture.org .

However, executing the vision must be a unified effort. There is plenty of work and credit to go around. Power and respect are gained with quiet leadership for the good of all.

Over 40,000

That’s right, according to a Saturday morning kids’ television show, there are over 40,000 careers for today’s youth to chose from . . . and the television show is going to help your kids figure out what they want to be when they grow up. The kids don’t know what a luxury all of these choices are. The producers of the show probably don’t know either.

If it wasn’t for natural resource users turning the land and its bounties into food, clothing, shelter and energy for the country, Everyone would have only careers in these areas to choose from. And, depending on where you live and what your parents and grandparents do, the choices would be more limited than even these four areas. Hunting wouldn’t be a recreational activity but one necessary for survival. Youth wouldn’t be going to institutions of higher education to learn to do their jobs better, they would be doing the job.

But aside from the obvious, at least to the less than 1.5 percent of folks involved in agriculture, there is a more dire message in what children decide to be. As BEEF magazine’s Amanda Radke writes: Folks under 35 years of age and involved in production agriculture certainly are a minority category – one that is quickly growing smaller, according to a recent report published in the Society of Range Management’s (SRM) publication, Rangelands.

After evaluating 90 years of census data, the report concludes there will be no operators younger than 35 by 2033, and the average age of the rancher will be 60 years old by 2050. The average of New Mexico ranchers is already at 60.5 years and is among the highest in the nation.

Here are excerpts from the SRM report:

“The authors of the Rangelands article focused on the High Plains, specifically Wyoming, which still holds large tracts of working land. They reviewed decades of U.S. Census data, sorting it into classes based on worker age. They then mapped the results to pinpoint both state- and county-level trends.

“They found that more than half of today’s farm operators are older than 55. In all but two counties in Wyoming, farming has attracted ever fewer people 34 years and younger. Most counties have also seen drops in the 35–54 age bracket. As a result, the average age of farmers and ranchers has increased in every county in Wyoming since 1920.”

The authors say that even if children and grandchildren show an interest in agriculture, the prior generation often cannot afford to keep their land and equipment. Instead, they retire and sell their land – often to residential or commercial developers. The authors point out that these Wyoming trends are occurring throughout the U.S.

The report’s authors urge a new approach that will attract young people to the business. These include teaching and internship programs, government incentives, and conservation easements that preserve farming and ranch estates – some of which are already in use. But, the authors say, the industry must work fast, before this fount of local knowledge and expertise is lost. “If young state residents learn more about their local environment and agricultural heritage, these programs could be even more successful in attracting the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” the authors say.

Unfortunately, while the cattle business offers the opportunity to reap big rewards, it also comes with huge financial risk. Having the capital, the land and the fortitude to get established in this business is an extremely difficult task without a very strong foundation and an excellent transition plan in place for the next generation.

While this report is disturbing, Radke believes there will still be opportunities for young people to get into production agriculture. With that in mind, the typical definition of what makes a farmer or rancher might look a lot different by 2033. Young people will find new, creative ways to diversify. Off-farm incomes will be critical to maintain cash flow. Online, at-home businesses will become more of a mainstay.

One of Radke’s readers believes government involvement in programs such as CRP have allowed an aging farming/ranching population to continue to create revenue off of land that would normally be used for production agriculture. Many of these acres lay vacant with fences unmanaged and unkempt. If these acres were leased to the government and could be subleased back to young producers that could be a start. He knows several young producers who want in but pasture availability and capital outlay are the largest concerns in his area.

The Merry Roundhouse

By late January the 2015 New Mexico Legislature will be in full swing. Everyone is starting on a level playing field with several new members of the House and a new majority. It will be a great time to come to Santa Fe and learn the process.

There are already some 175 bills pre-filed. There is no doubt that some of the same old issues will be coming up like anti-trapping and no coyote calling contests. There will be several bills brought forth by the agriculture community. There will be another run at Right to Farm language, some efforts to address the federal endangered species protection, some protection for water rights in the face of federal water grabs, and we will again try to shed light on the New Mexico State Fair. Bills are expected to address the April 2014 Attorney General’s opinion on trespass on streambeds, both pro and con.

If you take a look at just the pre-filed legislation you are sure to find something of interest to everybody. The state song issue will even come back up with a bill to declare a State Children’s Song.

For those who cannot make it to Santa Fe, there is lots of opportunity to participate in the public process. The internet has made it possible to watch and/or listen to floor session and committee meetings and to read legislation and offer assistance from home.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) is once again looking for bill readers to read 10 out of every 100 bills. Instructions will be provided and you can email your thoughts to those on the ground in Santa Fe. Please email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you want to help.

Some dates to remember during Session are the NMCGA Board of Directors meetings on February 16 and 17, the Ag Fest Reception on February 17 and the Roundhouse Feed on March 19. Remember that all NMCGA Board meetings are open to all NMCGA members. If you’d like to attend the meetings please let us know.

We cannot say often enough how important it is for your legislators to see and hear from you during the Legislature. We can carry your message, but only you can tell your story.

Annual Animal Cruelty Update

The issue of animal cruelty and the Legislature deserves its own heading. While we haven’t seen what the anti’s have in store for this year; KRQE Television signed the beginning of the fight with its annual animal cruelty update in mid December.

The grim report was again that New Mexico ranks 48th in the nation for animal cruelty. The state has gotten one spot closer to the top of the list since 2013. Sounds like as a whole we are pretty terrible people. Now for the rest of the story.

The rankings are created by some group’s opinion of the animal cruelty laws within each state. One such ranking contains this disclaimer in small print: The annual report is based on each state’s existing laws and does not take into account the conduct of its animal rescue groups and organizations or the conditions of its shelters. (emphasis added)

It is disappointing that the media doesn’t include that rest of the story, but you can be sure that there will be efforts to make New Mexico less cruel by passing more laws.

On death and dying

When I was an aspiring writer I was told that one needed life experience to be a real writer, especially of fiction. I think it is fair to say that I have earned that life experience tee-shirt.

As we grow older and grow our circles of friends and associates, it is inevitable that we lose more and more folks from our circle every year. Like everything else in our society, there are a number of choices we can make for ourselves about how we want to be handled when the call comes.

In my humble opinion we all are free to make our own choices, but those choices might be made in light of the folks who are left behind. I had a friend’s father who left $10,000 for a huge party in the park in San Antonio. That’s the kind of style I would like to afford to go out in.

Recently there have been some friends who have left strict instructions that they wanted no service or remembrance gathering. One didn’t even want an obituary. Coming from one of the most giving people I have ever known, that was pretty selfish.

It took me some of that life experience to understand how important it is for friends and family to come together to cry and laugh and share memories, to have a closing point and the strength to move on.