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Longtime NMSU Extension agent selected as national professional of year

With a 29-year record of service to New Mexicans, Eddy County Cooperative Extension Service Program Director Woods Houghton has been named Professional of the Year by a national organization.

New Mexico State University Extension agent Woods Houghton

Houghton, who serves as agriculture agent as well as program manager at New Mexico State University?s Extension office in Eddy County, was recognized for his leadership and expertise by the Joint Council of Extension Professionals and the National Association of County Agriculture Agents.

The nominating materials for Houghton noted his key roles in various areas of Extension work over the years, ranging from New Mexico water law, weed and pest management for farmers, the 4-H youth program, organization of anti-drug community organizations and the development of an innovative therapeutic garden to provide substance abuse intervention assistance.

?The Professional of the Year award recognizes individuals who demonstrate how building partnerships throughout their Extension careers improves the quality of life for citizens and communities,? said Jon C. Boren, associate dean for NMSU?s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and director of the Extension Service. ?Mr. Woods Houghton truly exemplifies an Extension professional through his high quality programming; service to his community, state and New Mexico State University; and his outstanding leadership role in the New Mexico Association of County Agricultural Agents. He firmly believes in the Extension core value of improving the lives of the citizens he serves. He is certainly deserving of this award.?

Houghton said he was ?humbled and surprised? when he learned he was going to receive the award. He will be recognized at the 99th annual NACAA meeting July 20-24 in Mobile, Alabama.

?I strongly feel that the Extension mission is to help people through informal education and assistance, and I have tried to fulfill the Extension Workers Professional Creed,? Houghton said. ?I was just part of what the citizens of De Baca and Eddy counties wanted to accomplish. It?s their program, I just help them make it happen.?

Over the years, Houghton has worked on several projects with NMSU College of ACES Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs Jim Libbin.

?Woods is a bulldog in trying to find the cause of a problem,? Libbin said. ?What really impresses me is his total dedication to the needs of the constituents in his county and the whole state as well. He is a wonderful example of the quality people we have in the Cooperative Extension Service. It reflects well on the whole university, the college and the whole Extension Service. I?m just thrilled that he is able to have this kind of recognition. It?s well-, well-deserved.?

Houghton?s accomplishments in Extension work go back to 1985, when he started as an agent in De Baca County, a small, one-agent county where Houghton conducted programming in all areas of Extension ? agriculture, 4-H, family and consumer sciences and community development. He assisted that county to get funding for a community center and to replace outdated equipment in the county hospital, a total of a little more than a million dollars. Houghton has since served for 24 years as the agriculture agent in Eddy County, which ranks as New Mexico?s seventh largest agriculture-producing county, with a population of more than 54,000.

To help address the challenges posed by the arid climate in Southeastern New Mexico, Houghton helped establish the Lower Pecos River Water Users? Organization, which includes organizations and agencies from a four-county area. The group developed the Regional Water Plan in 2001, which became part of the state water plan. Houghton is chairperson of the organization, which is currently working to update the Regional Water Plan.

Among other water-related activities, Houghton helped form the Lower Pecos River Watershed Alliance, a group of federal, state and local agencies and private individuals who work on the health of the Pecos River watershed. Houghton was nominated by the governor and served on the state-level Agriculture Water Conservation Task Force. He also helped form the Pecos Native Riparian Restoration Organization, which worked to manage non-native species invading the Pecos River system.

Beginning in 2004, Houghton helped organize two anti-drug coalitions in Eddy County and coalitions in two other communities in other counties in an effort to bring together stakeholder groups and focus efforts to identify and solve drug-related problems. Houghton?s role was to involve Extension to conduct educational programming on health, finances and youth leadership. The effort has become self-sustaining and continues to provide educational programs to the communities. A positive result from this coalition has been that methamphetamine use in the county is now below the national average and continues to decline. Underage drinking also has significantly declined. Due to the coalition?s anti-drug and anti-gang work, Houghton was selected by two governors to serve on the New Mexico Behavioral Health Council.

Part of Houghton?s anti-drug coalition work is a therapeutic garden project called ?Growing Hope,? which is used with in-patient substance abuse intervention to increase self-esteem, self-help, responsibility and ethical values. Houghton worked with the community Mental Health Association and on the state level to teach the basics of gardening and the therapeutic benefits that gardens can have.

To assist cotton farmers in the county, Houghton was instrumental in both the Boll Weevil Monitoring and Eradication Program and the Pink Boll Worm Monitoring Program when the pests threatened the cotton crop and the economy in three area counties. He helped form the Boll Worm Eradication Committee and promoted the permanent date for cotton plow-down completion in the Pink Boll Worm program, as well as assisting farmers with the knowledge they needed to make informed decisions about their crops.

Four years ago, Houghton assisted local farmers with losses from cutworms, which destroyed hundreds of acres of crops in the county. He identified the pest and was influential in the county receiving a disaster declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which extended governmental assistance to farmers for their losses.

Due to his knowledge and experience with pesticides, Houghton offers a variety of trainings each year to clientele who have a pesticide applicator license or need to obtain one. He also delivers the Worker Protection Standard trainings in Spanish as well as English to accommodate his diverse audiences. He identified the cause of catastrophic losses of cotton due to pesticide movement on 42 farms in the county and worked with the New Mexico congressional delegation to obtain restitution for the farmers.

Brush and weed control in Eddy County has been a major focus, Houghton said. He has worked with the Bureau of Land Management, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the NMSU Extension brush and weed control specialists, which resulted in the treatment of more than 300,000 acres of brush and weeds. He helped develop a memorandum of understanding with numerous federal, state and local agencies, resulting in ongoing noxious weed management activities throughout the county. A focus of the program is the removal of salt cedar, a state-designated noxious weed that depletes precious water resources.

His efforts have been recognized by other organizations, including the De Baca Chamber of Commerce, New Mexico Farm Bureau, New Mexico Cattle Growers, and three Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He has received NMSU?s Distinguished Service Award and Distinguished Extension Award, the Carlsbad Current-Argus Unsung Hero Award and NACAA?s Achievement Award.

Houghton served 12 years on the NMSU Advisory Committee on Administrative Policy (now called the Employee Council). He fought for parity for off-campus offices and the sick leave bank. He served three years on the NMSU Faculty Senate. Houghton served three years as State 4-H leadership team adviser, two as diplomat and one as ambassador adviser.

?What I am most proud of is the number of 4-H youth who are or will serve as leaders in their communities and professions,? Houghton said.

In keeping with the role of Extension agent as educator, Houghton writes a weekly news column published in four newspapers, generating more than 650 articles since 1999. He also does a weekly radio show that is broadcast throughout the county and has produced more than 500 one-hour online programs. Houghton has delivered educational information through local television programming, with more than 200 appearances.