Food, farm system comes to fruition

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By Harold Morgan

“The food and fiber system” is what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls farming and the related industries.
“Even though farming accounts for only about 1 percent of the total national workforce, it is at the core of the food and fiber system… The food and fiber system is defined as involving all economic activities from the farm to the consumer,” federal ag guys say.
This broader definition includes both activity before production, the “inputs,” the production itself and post-production activity such as food processing and manufacturing, for example, turning plant and animal hides and fibers into fabric and shoes.
As can be seen from the name, our principal job statistic—non-agricultural wage and salary employment—by definition leaves out agriculture. One reason, no doubt, is that farms and ranches are small family businesses in terms of the numbers of people involved and don’t file the forms required to be “employees” and therefore counted. Besides, how might one count the labor of teenagers?
Farming itself accounts for less than one percent of gross domestic product. Throw in everything else, however, and the employment proportion grows to 18.6 percent in the mountain states.
Nationally the inputs amount to 3.9 percent of GDP. The rest, the sectors that buy and process farm products, are another 8.3 percent of GDP.
In 2011 New Mexico had 23,000 farms and ranches, up 1,300 from 2010 and the highest number in years, according to the annual agricultural statistics report. Those farms, averaging 1,900 acres each, occupied 43.4 million acres, not counting land leased from the federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, or 56 percent of the state’s 77.9 million acres. My guess is that the leased land would add significantly to the total.
Key sources for this column are “The Food and Fiber System” and “Statistics by State,” both from the USDA. (See capitolreportnm.blogspot.com.)
Cash receipts, the measure of agricultural activity, were $4.1 billion for 2011 with $3.3 billion from livestock (cattle and dairies) and the rest from crops.
Farmers and ranchers spent $2.3 billion for inputs, including $895 million for feed, $513 million for livestock, $145 million for fuel and $136 million for fixing stuff. Money for feed is necessary because dairy cows don’t have pastures, cattle in feedlots must be, uh, fed, and even cattle in pastures need extra munchies, especially during droughts. Range and pasture conditions deteriorated significantly during 2011 with just 13 percent rated “fair or better” during August, compared with 90 percent during August 2010.
Agriculture is a tough business; outside forces (God, if you will) control the production environment. Ski area operators used to have the same problem, but snow-making technology has compensated.
Wine is a business not commonly associated with agriculture. All those aesthetics and oaky flavors have transcended any relationship. But those bottles and corks are just as much a part of agriculture as is the cattle feed.
NMwine.com lists 23 wineries. Two are well outside the central part of the state. Those are the Cottonwood Winery in Artesia and the Balzano Winery in Carlsbad. The main tasting room for Balzano is Carlsbad’s Trinity Hotel, a nine-room boutique operation housed in the recently renovated First National Bank Building.
The Trinity also serves wine from the Luna Rossa Winery in Deming.
The point here is a familiar one in this column. To a fair extent we haven’t a clue about what really is happening in our economy. The national numbers indicate agriculture has much more impact than is understood. Opportunity might knock. Maybe the boat rides on the Pecos River in Carlsbad could become a wine festival.