Skip to main content

NMSU, regional agroforestry enthusiasts form Southwest Agroforestry Action Network

  • By Jane Moorman
  • 505-249-0527
  • Jul 15, 2019
large group of people
Because of the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the agricultural industry has been aware of the impact of over-farming, over-grazing livestock and poor farming practices during drought conditions.

Many conservation practices have been implemented during the past eight decades because of that devastation, including planting trees along fence lines and roads to decrease wind erosion.

During recent decades the practice of agroforestry has evolved to create management systems that combine agriculture and forestry to create productive and sustainable land-use practices. These practices take advantage of the interactive benefits from growing trees and shrubs together with crops and/or livestock.

The National Agroforestry Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, is engaged with seven regional groups of agricultural research scientists, government agencies and environmental enthusiasts that have formed to promote the many practices of agroforestry.

The most recent group to form is the Southwest Agroforestry Action Network, which includes New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

In June, New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences was host to the first face-to-face meeting in Farmington where a mission, motto and goals were developed.

“These regional working groups focus on local issues with local people who understand the soils, plants, and the needs and issues in the area,” said Richard Straight, the lead agroforester at the national center. “I’m impressed with the passion of this organizing group and their interest in changing how we produce food in a way that is respective of the land, the people and the water in the Southwest.”

Attending the three-day meeting representing NMSU were Caiti Steele, Southwest Climate Hub deputy director; Andres Cibils, animal and range science professor; and John Mexal, retired forestry professor.

From NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington were Kevin Lombard, center’s superintendent and horticulturist; Koffi Djaman, associate professor stationed at the Farmington science center doing research in irrigation and agronomy; Sam Allen, research scientist; Margaret West, research scientist; and Mick O’Neill, professor emeritus.

Also from New Mexico were Steve Kadas, NRCS-New Mexico state resource conservationist; Carol Bada, New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department – Forest Division’s conservation seedling program manager; Kent Reid, New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute in Las Vegas; and Sadie Lister, Indian Nations Conservation Alliance.

“Agroforestry is integration of trees and woody perennial plants on an agricultural landscape benefitting people and the environment,” Lombard said. “It is the multifaceted blending of forestry, agronomy and horticulture likened in some ways to form a permaculture.”

Permaculture is a set of design principles centered around whole-system thinking simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields from regenerative agriculture, rewilding, community and organizational design and development.

“There are a lot of ways agroforestry gets implemented besides windbreaks,” Straight said. “Some of the practices include alley cropping, where a row crop is planted among trees; silvopasture, where the deliberate, intensively managed integration of trees and grazing livestock operations is conducted on the same land; forest farming; and riparian forest buffers.”

Through this integration of trees, other crops and animals, there is a beneficial interaction.

“Having a variety of crops on the soil, not just annual crops but perennial as well, we keep the soil covered and protected from wind and water erosion,” Straight said. “There is also a variety of roots and organic matter in the soil, which helps support a broader variety of micro-organisms that live in the soil that help create a healthier soil.”

NMSU has several examples of agroforestry practices at its College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ agricultural science centers around the state. Research is being conducted at each center to determine best practices for implementation.