NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Strategies for survival: Working on the future of New Mexico's cash crops

In New Mexico, there's a lot of pride that goes into the chile, onion and pecan harvests that generate millions in revenue for the state economy. Not too many people know, however, how much of what's grown in the Land of Enchantment ends up on their dinner tables.

"Take chile, for example," said Terry Crawford, co-director of the Center for North American Studies at New Mexico State University. "Most people don't think whether the stuff is Chinese, Indian or Peruvian. They think, 'It's just chile. Don't all chiles come from here?'"

Establishing a specific market identity for the state's crops is just one of the issues being researched and studied by the center, which is based out of the Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business Department in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics.

"CNAS is a federally-funded program that deals with trade policy issues affecting primarily agricultural and rural economies in the U.S.," Crawford said. "We started looking at livestock movement, but now we've moved on to larger specialty crops in the state."

Strategies for survival for the chile, onion and pecan industries were the focus of the recent daylong Southwest Agribusiness Conference, sponsored by NMSU, CNAS and the International Food and Agribusiness Association.

"The center is trying to provide a basis for New Mexico leadership to form around ideas to move the industry forward, that's the ultimate purpose for research," Crawford said.

With regards to chile, Crawford points out that many products out right now are considered to be "Hatch chile," even though the local crops have not yet been harvested. One of the solutions being considered is similar to a plan being used by Haas avocado growers and a program already in place for the nation's beef industry.

"It's called the beef checkoff program. Basically, it's a fee charged to domestic growers and importers which helps pay for marketing," he said. "Most of us have heard the slogan, 'Beef. It's What's For Dinner.' The money from that program paid for that campaign."

These programs also serve to ensure a quality product makes it to the marketplace.

"If you want to maintain quality, you have to define the specifications and make sure the people who follow those specifications," Crawford said. "Bad product drives out good product if you don't maintain quality."

The center also aims to make sure New Mexico's voice is heard in discussions on national agriculture issues and consideration is given to the impact of any proposed policies.

"If people will pay attention to what the research says and what we're trying to do here out of the center," Crawford explained, "it will provide a mechanism for developing a strategic plan and implementing that plan for the growth of both agriculture and other aspects of New Mexico's economy."