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Rolando Flores, seated center, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU, attends the September 2016 Field Day at the Artesia Ag Science Center. (Photo by Darrell J. Pehr – NMSU)

On July 1, the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Agricultural Science Center in Artesia will celebrate 62 years of serving the widespread agricultural interests of Southeast New Mexico.

Dr. Rolando Flores, dean of NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Robert Flynn, ASC-Artesia superintendent and extension agronomist, want to assure the community they’re doing everything in their power to ensure that service continues uninterrupted.

At the Feb. 21 meeting of the Eddy County Commission, commissioners put their stamp of approval on a letter drafted by Chairman Stella Davis to Dr. Garrey Carruthers, chancellor and president at NMSU.

The letter states the commission has learned NMSU plans to close the ASC at Artesia and asks the college to reconsider.

“The agricultural industry in southeastern New Mexico is valued in the billions of dollars,” writes Davis. “This valuable economic success has been made possible in part due to the invaluable research that takes place at the NMSU Agricultural Experimental Station.

“To close this valuable research center would be devastating to the agricultural industries in southeastern New Mexico and Eddy County in particular.”

The news was ill-received in Artesia, where word quickly spread the closure was imminent.
But Flores says nothing has been decided yet as per the future of New Mexico’s 12 off-campus science centers.

“I really want to be very clear on this – as the dean of the college, I do not want to close any facilities,” Flores said. “Because if we close the facilities, all the years that we have in there, all the equipment and things like that, it’s all wasted.”

Flores says he and other NMSU representatives have been making the rounds to the centers, speaking with their advisory boards and asking them to brainstorm funding options.

At the root of the need for alternative funding is the same thorn in the side of all New Mexico schools at present: the state’s budget crisis.

“During the last year, we basically cut about 7 percent from our budget in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences,” said Flores. “We were able to get that from different sources, so basically, it was a one-time thing.

“The problem is that now, the new budget has started already for the next fiscal year that starts in July with 5 percent less than what we had last year, and they still haven’t decided how much is going to be added to that in additional cuts.”

Flores says the threat of those looming cuts has put a “tremendous burden” on the college and prompted the science center visits.

“We explain to (the advisory boards) the situation and are asking for their feedback – what options do they see, what alternatives do they see,” he said.

In addition to the Artesia ag science center, NMSU operates centers in Clayton, Clovis, Tucumcari, Farmington, Mora, Alcalde, Los Lunas, Corona, and three in Las Cruces.

Artesia’s center was officially established July 1, 1955, by the Pecos Valley Farm Planning Association, comprised of, among others, Charles Martin of Artesia, Ross Spears, Howard Stroup, Tom Brown and Bill Langenegger of Hagerman, Winston Lovelace of Loving, Carl Nicholas of Dexter, and Carl Clardy of Roswell.

It was, at the time, NMSU’s fifth off-campus research station. Flynn arrived in the center’s 40th year of operation in 1995.

“I was brought in as part of an enhancement project that the board of directors at the time had been planning for a couple of years,” Flynn said. “There had been some retirements, and it became important to see to the financial needs and to try to bring it into more modern shape.”

ASC-Artesia holds water rights for 98.35 acres of land and is divided into laser-leveled benches for efficient irrigation. It utilizes furrow, border/dike, sprinkler, and automated, self-moving linear irrigation systems and a variety of other equipment needed for its focus on forage, fiber and vegetables crops, pest management, and nutrient/water management.

The center’s research has been instrumental on both a state and national level, with its first algae ponds established in 2005 as a response to the nationwide call for exploration of alternative fuel sources.

Its staff – which currently includes Flynn, Jane Pierce, associate professor and research and extension entomologist, Servando Bustillos, farm/ranch supervisor, Martin Lopez, lab tech researcher, Patricia Monk, senior ag research assistant, Ruben Pacheco, research assistant, Luis Segura, senior laborer, and Stephanie Tilton, administrative assistant – also partner with numerous other organizations and agencies, as well as contribute to a variety of local programs and outreach events.

The center also funds an annual scholarship for Eddy, Chaves and Lea County graduates, named for Stroup.

“There’s a lot at stake right now as far as how our state sees our experiment stations and how our community itself sees it, as well,” Flynn said. “There’s a lot of history, a lot tied up in it, and it would be a waste to close it.

“If we look at agriculture as a whole, livestock is the biggest market, range and dairy combined, but they all have to eat something, and we produce it. So this is very important.”

Flores agrees.

“All of (the centers) need more research funds, all of them need more students, all of them have aging facilities, all of them need more maintenance – but all of them do good work,” he said. “They do good research for New Mexicans.”

Several of the alternative funding options being explored by the centers involve grants. Flynn says those can at times be difficult to obtain but that ASC-Artesia is doing its best to go after the money.

“We’re a small institution compared to the Purdues and Nebraskas,” he said.

Flynn says there are other options the state could explore, as well, to help mitigate its budget woes and shore up funding for facilities like the ag science centers.

“Many states – and we’re one of the ones that don’t – have a fertilizer tonnage fee,” Flynn said. “Everybody who brings in fertilizer has to pay a tonnage fee, and many of those states also have rules that specify a percentage of those tonnage fees have to be used to support research for better use of those projects.

“There are other things the state can do; NMSU, there’s only so much they can do. We also need good, decent ideas from farmers on how we can best help them out. They don’t want to see this close, we don’t want to see this close – it’s just a matter of, ‘Alright, what plan do we have and where are we going to go from here,’ and I think that’s still being worked out at this time.”

Flores says when all of the meetings are complete, a task force comprised of some of the members of the centers’ advisory boards, NMSU faculty, and superintendents will be formed to determine the next step in light of the state of the budget at that time.

“As the dean of the college, I would like to have more faculty in every place, more students, more funds, but unfortunately, the situation of the state is not for that,” Flores said. “So we will see how the budget goes and then make decisions at that point.”