Severe Drought Hurts Farmers In New Mexico And Texas
April 27, 2011

Franzoy is a fourth generation farmer in this valley. His great grandfather immigrated here from Italy in the late 1800s. Franzoy farms onions, chile and alfalfa - some of the most profitable crops in the state. But this year, his profit margin will likely drop, thanks to the drought.

On top of the costs associated with pumping water, Franzoy is having to pay for river water he probably won't see much of this season. Farmers in southern New Mexico pay a fixed amount each year for access to water from the Elephant Butte Resevoir, which collects water from the Rio Grande. But the amount of runoff from the Colorado mountains into the Rio Grande is down nearly 70 percent this season.

That's bad news for Franzoy, who said he needs 4 feet of water per acre of onions. This year, the reservoir may only give him 3 inches.

“It's going to cost more to produce less,” he said. “And we are actually changing our farming practices.”

Well water is saltier than river water, which is bad for crops. Salt robs them of moisture and nutrients. The shortage of water and the lower quality of the water that is available is forcing farmers like Franzoy to cut down on thirsty crops, like alfalfa, and switch to cotton, which consumes far less water.

“I haven't grown cotton in over 10 years,” Franzoy said. “I'm going from zero acres of cotton to 250, which is about 20 percent of my acreage.”

Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Groundwater is saltier than river water. The result is unhealthy looking onion sprouts.

The fact that cotton is selling at record highs - up from 70 cents to almost $2 a pound - makes the crop even more attractive to farmers this year. Rhonda Skaggs, an agricultural economist at New Mexico State University, said cotton prices may help soften the blow dealt by the drought.

“Whatever loss in production occurs because of reduced water and lower output may be very well balanced or over compensated by the prices that the farmers are going to get,” Skaggs said.

So although the drought conditions are bad, it won't have a widespread economic impact.

Agriculture makes up only 1.5 percent of New Mexico's economy. Skaggs said these days few New Mexican families rely solely on farming as their main source of income. And living with drought is all a part of living in the desert.

“This is a dry area,” Skaggs said. “It's going to be a little drier than normal. But overall, the drought's impacts are not going to be felt that dramatically by the population at large.”

Drought is cyclical - it comes and it goes, often over periods of 20 years. Coming from a family of farmers, Franzoy knows it's only one of many obstacles.

“Well, I mean, it's really stressful, which agriculture is really stressful anyway,” he said. “I mean if it's not a drought, it's rain. Or its hail. Or insects. Or wind. I mean, there's so many factors and this is just one of them and we are used to it.”

ct that cotton is selling at record highs - up from 70 cents to almost $2 a pound - makes the crop even more attractive to farmers this year. Rhonda Skaggs, an agricultural economist at New Mexico State University, said cotton prices may help soften the blow dealt by the drought.

“Whatever loss in production occurs because of reduced water and lower output may be very well balanced or over compensated by the prices that the farmers are going to get,” Skaggs said.

So although the drought conditions are bad, it won't have a widespread economic impact.

Agriculture makes up only 1.5 percent of New Mexico's economy. Skaggs said these days few New Mexican families rely solely on farming as their main source of income. And living with drought is all a part of living in the desert.

“This is a dry area,” Skaggs said. “It's going to be a little drier than normal. But overall, the drought's impacts are not going to be felt that dramatically by the population at large.”

Drought is cyclical - it comes and it goes, often over periods of 20 years. Coming from a family of farmers, Franzoy knows it's only one of many obstacles.

“Well, I mean, it's really stressful, which agriculture is really stressful anyway,” he said. “I mean if it's not a drought, it's rain. Or its hail. Or insects. Or wind. I mean, there's so many factors and this is just one of them and we are used to it.”