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Farming in drought added to annual organic farming conference topics

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Drought is the big topic on the minds of agricultural producers, and it will be the hot topic at this year's New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 14-15, at the Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid North Hotel, 5151 San Francisco Road NE.

"This is the largest and most diverse agriculture conference held in New Mexico," said Joanie Quinn, New Mexico Department of Agriculture's organic commodity adviser and conference coordinator. The event is organized by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, NMDA and Farm to Table.

Traditional agricultural producers will find plenty of useful information at the conference, as well.

"The information that is presented is vital to any producers. Most of those attending the conference are not organic certified," she said.

Farming in drought will be a new category of topic among the 36 sessions.

"Record rainfall in September brought most areas of New Mexico nearly up to normal annual precipitation levels, and greened up the rangeland," Quinn said. "However, the rain came so fast and hard that much of it ran off. Acequias were damaged and fields were buried in sediment. Without good snowpack this winter, we face exceptional irrigation shortages in 2014."

Keynote speaker Margaret Hiza Redsteer will bring years of observation and study along with the best and latest science to bear on what can be expected in the future and how it will affect farmers and ranchers in the Southwest. Her speech will open the conference on Friday morning.

Other drought topics will include:
? managing soil salinity, presented by organic soil guru Ron Godin of Colorado State University;
? water harvesting for farmers, presented by Billy Kniffen, Texas AgriLife Extension's retired water resource specialist;
? grazing management in times of drought, presented by Frank Aragona, director of programs at Holistic Management International;
? understanding your water rights, presented by presented by a representative of the Office of the State Engineer; and
? land restoration, presented by Mollie Walton, a restoration ecologist at Quivira Coalition.

"We have some amazing presenters this year, including Gary Paul Nabhan, author of 26 books, including "Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land; "Chasing Chiles;" and "Renewing America's Food Traditions"; and Helen Atthowe, author of "Reduced Tillage in Organic Vegetable Production: Success, Challenges," and a series of videos, "New Directions Conservation Farming and Agroecology."

Atthowe will present a session Friday afternoon titled "Reduced Tillage, Ecological Weed Management." Nabhan will present a session Saturday morning titled "Tapping Into the Wisdom of the Desert: Sustainably Growing Food in the Face of Climate Change and Water Scarcity."

Three new alternative crops will be discussed during a Friday afternoon session titled "Teff, Guar, Hops" where Leonard Lauriault and Kulbhushan Grover of NMSU and Beth LaShell of Fort Lewis College will talk about these crops that could be in growers' future.

Other NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Extension specialists and researchers presenting session include Bill Lindemann, Sam Smallidge, Carol Sutherland, Marcy Ward, John Idowu and Tess Grasswitz.

The conference will begin each day with registration at 7:30 a.m. Registration for both days will be $100 per person, and for single day entrance, $65. Early registration may be done online at www.farmtotablenm.org.