I recently visited with local farmer Seth Menefee about the wrapping up of the summer growing season. Seth is a 6th generation farmer with a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics. He’s involved in the Artesia Alfalfa Grower’s Association, which operates the local cotton gin. Like ALL other industries during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, Southeastern New Mexico agriculture definitely felt the effects of an interrupted supply chain and a volatile commodities market. The other token of the 2020 agriculture year is the severely dry conditions which presented a slew of other challenges to contend with.
Read on for details in a question and answer session with Seth:
Q: What are you working on at the farm right now?
A: The last of the corn crop is being chopped and moved to the neighboring dairies. Our hay season will go through October; the dry conditions really didn’t play into our favor this year. There are calves to wean. Cattle have had it tough because of the dry conditions and severe heat. They had to be supplemented with hay to get them through the hot months. We’re also preparing the soil for a new crop of wheat. We didn’t grow a cotton crop this year, but other farmers have, and they will start the cotton harvest next month which will last through November.
Q: You mentioned the dry conditions affecting the hay season, how much rain did the north part of Eddy County see?
A: In a normal year we see 12-13 inches fall, but for this year only about 3 inches have fallen. Two inches all came in March. We saw a max of .4 of an inch of rain this May through September season. Usually, in the May through September season, we can count on at least a couple inches of rain. And, by now, there’s typically another couple inches falling. We irrigated heavily all summer and were rarely able to shut off irrigation.
Q: Can you give a brief synopsis of the Southeastern New Mexico Ag scene of 2020?
A: COVID was tough on commodities. This area is heavily dairy dependent, and milk prices dropped to record lows. Fortunately, the prices have since rebounded. Cotton was low at .60 cents a pound. Anything over .70 cents is a decent price. For perspective, a module of cotton (the raw material) weighs on average about 17,000 pounds. A bale of cotton (the finished product) weighs about 500 pounds. There are typically between 12 to 15 bales in a module. Hay prices were less affected by COVID, but the dairies have a ripple on the market for forage crops here. If the dairies aren’t doing well, the farmers likely won’t have a great year either. The weather and COVID are the big influencers of the ag crop this year.
Q: What’s the outlook for 2021?
A: I’m optimistic for the future; agriculture is a cyclical industry, and things are already changing and looking up. I’m hoping for rain to end this tough year; this long year.
By Kaity Hirst