Despite its generally dry climate, agriculture in New Mexico is an important economic activity. Ranching and commercial farming added $3.1 billion to the state’s economy in 2007. Nearly half of this income was derived from Chaves, Curry, Roosevelt, and Doña Ana counties. There were 20,600 farms in 2008, of which 33 percent had annual sales of more than $10,000. Farmland occupied 17.4 million hectares (43 million acres), of which just 5 percent was devoted to raising crops. Some 33 percent of the cropland is irrigated either by river water or by groundwater from aquifers. The greater part of New Mexico’s productive farmland is found along the Río Grande and in the Pecos, San Juan, Canadian, and Gila river valleys, where crops can be irrigated with river water.
Some areas, such as that around Deming, are irrigated by pumped wells. The production on the irrigated land accounts for much of New Mexico’s agricultural output by value. Dry farming (farming without irrigation) is practiced in the extreme eastern part of the state and in a few small areas in the mountain valleys.
Ranching is far more important than farming, especially in eastern New Mexico. Livestock sales provide 76 percent of the state’s farm income. The cattle herds were largest in the early 1920s, but the grasslands were greatly overgrazed. Since then the number of cattle has been reduced and efforts have been made to improve grazing practices.
At one time the cattle were marketed chiefly in Kansas City, but now many cattle are slaughtered in New Mexico and much of the beef is sent to California.
Sheep are grazed in the northeastern plains, in the northern mountains, and in the Navajo areas of the northwest. National forests include grazing land for sheep and cattle. While growing cattle and calves for meat remained steady during the 1990s, the value of dairy products increased markedly, becoming the second most valuable agricultural product. The state also has farms that produce eggs and hogs. In the late 1990s hay, vegetables, and nursery and greenhouse items were the leading cash crops in New Mexico. Hay is grown mainly in Chaves, Eddy, and San Juan counties, and most of it is fed to livestock on the farms where it is grown rather than sold.
The most important vegetables raised are chili peppers and onions; others include potatoes, lettuce, and pinto beans. Corn, cotton, peanuts, grain sorghum, and wheat are the most important field crops—most grown on irrigated farms. Orchard crops are primarily pecans, grown in Doña Ana County, and apples, grown in Rio Arriba and San Juan counties. "New Mexico" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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