RMFU Members In New Mexico Working For Adequate Funding For Agriculture, Rural Communities

By Pam Roy
RMFU Government Relations – New Mexico

With the New Mexico 2020 Legislative 30-day session off to a rapid start, New Mexico’s is poised to add to its coffers through revenue expansion from the oil and gas industry. At the same time, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators are cautious. Their focus is on developing a permanent fund of up to 25 percent in reserves. At the same time, a big ticket priorities like the Early Childhood Fund is calling for a constitution amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union members in New Mexico have already participated in developing a slate of priorities that will strengthen New Mexico’s farming and ranching economy and rural sectors by expanding market opportunities and resources. These New Mexico members participated in the New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation District’s opening day presentations at the Capitol.

A top priority is SB102, Agriculture and Natural Resources Trust Fund, sponsored by Senator Nevelle. The Fund would provide resources to invest in a wide variety of land and water restoration and conservation initiatives. Farmers Union joins a broad base of partner organizations representing farming, ranching, and the environment. Bill Midcap, RMFU Senior Policy Advisor for New Mexico, shared in the presentation highlighting the importance of this trust for water and land restoration projects.Every dollar spent can leverage seven dollars from federal resources and business investments. The program is modeled after a notably successful Wyoming program.

Big ticket legislative priorities have overshadowed many on-going and new programs that saw funding in 2019 through the “Junior Budget” process. In preparation of the budget session, the NM Department of Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte introduced what he called the NMDA “farm bill” highlighting a set of programs that the NMDA considered worthy of continued funding in addition to the Department’s base budget of over $11 million. The ask was for an additional $2.4 million. Despite having one of the smallest department budgets, the “farm bill” request did not make it into the Governor’s or Legislative Finance Committee’s budget recommendations. In the week ramping up to the opening of the Legislative session we worked with key legislators who had sponsored the individual programs within the “farm bill” last year to reintroduce a set of appropriation requests. Representative Melanie Stansbury, a member of the Legislative Finance Committee, suggested creating an “omnibus agriculture appropriations bill” that includes four NMDA programs and a half a dozen NM State University agriculture support programs.  Herein is a summary of the request.

HB253: Agriculture Programs Omnibus Appropriations Request
Representatives Stansbury, Sweeter, G. Armstrong, Dow, and Fajardo. A separate mirror bill will be introduced in the Senate by Senator Campos. Supports multiple programs within the NM Department of Agriculture’s (NMDA) and New Mexico State University (NMSU), including the following priorities:

NM Food and Agriculture Experiential Learning Grant Program:  $150,000 for schools to create/expand educational programs that integrate school gardens, cooking with kids, Ag in the Classroom, 4-H & FFA, and appropriate curriculum for these education programs.

The Agricultural Workforce Development Program Act:  $150,000 to expand the new cost-share program for farmers and ranchers to provide internship opportunities for individuals interested in agriculture as a profession.

Local Food and Farm Systems Development: $150,000 recurring to expand resources for developing New Mexico local food and farming systems including value chain coordination and food safety systems that support the SNAP Double Up Food Bucks program and local producer sales to retail and institutional outlets.

NM State University Cooperative Extension and College of Agriculture Programs:

  • $500,000 for NMSU’s center of excellence in sustainable agricultural systems program;
  • $250,000 NMSU to maintain agricultural experimental station research facilities statewide;
  • $450,000 for eight 4-H program staff positions; $127,000 for the college of agricultural, consumer, and environmental sciences’ farmer and rancher resource center; and, $50,000 for the strategic doing program to hire a strategic planning facilitator and a project coordinator and fund other operating costs of the program.

In addition to the “Omnibus Agriculture Budget” priority appropriations requests include:

HB166: Healthy Soils Act:
Representatives Jack Chatfield and Nathan Small
$300,000 to expand the new program that farmers and ranchers can apply to initiate a wide variety of on farm and ranch natural resource stewardship programs in partnership with agency support. Funds will support grants, program administration, research, education and outreach.

In support of the New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Term Service, Department of Health, and Public Education Departments the NMFAPC priorities include:

SB76:  Purchase NM Grown Fruits and Vegetables for a Senior Meals Program
Senator Liz Stefanics & Representative Gale
$100,000 for city, county and tribal run senior centers to be able to purchase NM grown fruits and vegetables.  New in 2019, this program needs time to get off the ground like the PED initiative that is highly successful. This would serve seniors across the state and create a new economic market for farmers. Administered by Aging and Long-Term Services.

HB144: Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
Sponsors: Representative Gail Armstrong and Senator Liz Stefanics
100,000 to expand the current program providing seniors with vouchers to be able to purchase NM grown fruits and vegetables at farmers’ market. 97,000 low-income seniors are eligible for this program, but current federal and state funds only provide enough funds for 16,000 seniors to participate. Administered by the NM Department of Health Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.

NM Grown Fruits & Vegetables for School Meals Support for LFC recurring of $500,000 annually.  The Legislative incentive is helping school districts learn how to purchase local produce and build it into this budget.  In 2018-19 schools purchased $1.15+ million. Administered by the NM Public Education Nutrition and Wellness Department.

These programs will enhance children’s diets while promoting healthier lifestyles and increasing academic achievement; increase access of New Mexico-grown fruits and vegetables for seniors; develop an agricultural workforce; provide soil health training and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers; and, will strengthen New Mexico’s farming economy and rural sectors by expanding market opportunities for farmers.

By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.