NMSU research facility field tests seeds for farmers

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

The 164 acres feature alfalfa and wheat and other ordinary crops, including sunflowers that grow to an average person’s eye level. For some, the land represents a career; for others, a classroom.

Many area farmers would say it’s an insurance policy they can’t afford to be without.

The land, 15 miles north of Clovis, is part of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center, located off of State Road 288. The center, opened in 1949, is home to about a dozen types of crops and 14 employees tasked with research duties.

“Our general purpose,” Superintendent Rex Kirksey said, “is to help agricultural programs so that they can make good planting decisions.”

That purpose is reached partially through what Kirksey calls variety trials. The trials are usually seeds sent from farmers or seed companies, and the center plants them on a small area of land. The results, whether good or bad, help farmers make educated choices before they invest thousands of dollars in a crop.

“That’s a big part of why we do work with crops on a limited basis,” Kirksey said. “If it’s a dismal failure, we’ve helped the farmer save a large sum of money.”

The process is trusted by many farmers, Kirksey said, because the center has no financial stake in whether or not a crop is a good investment, unlike for-profit companies.

It’s a notion that isn’t lost on farmers like Nick Pipkin, who has family members who work at the center and is himself a dry-land farmer.

“Basically, they can take risks that we can’t take,” Pipkin said Tuesday night. “We’ve got to make a living.”

Pipkin and his family were three of about 50 in the agriculture field who turned the facility into a sightseeing tour Tuesday night. As part of the center’s field day, people rode on a pair of trailers, complete with coolers full of drinks and hay bales used for seats.

Kirksey said the purpose of the field day, which comes about once a year, is twofold. First, it gives people in the area a chance to see what the university is doing with the tax dollars it receives. It also gives farmers a chance to get together and discuss topics that affect them and the agricultural industry.

Some of the topics discussed by the six presenters included peanut breeding, variety trails for sunflowers and alfalfa and the recent discovery of Africanized bees in Roosevelt County.

The education continues at the center year-round, even if there is no field day involved. College students can receive internship credit, or work at the center for summer employment.

The former applies to Broadview’s Falon Pettigrew, a senior at NMSU. The latter applies to Angela Maggio, a former NMSU student set to graduate in December 2006 from Eastern New Mexico University.

Pettigrew, in her first summer at the center, said she and other students work wherever help is needed, whether it be pushing paper or planting. She is majoring in ag business and economy. She intends to stay in school and obtain a master’s degree and try to work with farm credit agencies.

“We do everything at the center, from helping get all the crops ready, as far as keeping things ready,” Pettigrew said. “It’s getting me into the workforce and it’s giving me experience of what the job field’s going to be like when I get out of school.”

Maggio, meanwhile, is using the center as a summer job and as a chance to get to know area farmers. Maggio, an ag economics major from Clovis, is planning a future career selling pesticides, seeds or chemicals, and she’s gaining contacts now with potential customers in a post-college career.

“It’s a very good learning experience,” said Maggio, who is in her third summer at the center. “It’s not always fun, but it’s worth it.”

The center also makes a small amount of money, because it has no problem selling the crops that research creates. Kirksey said that money helps purchase equipment for the center and allows them to do more with the money already granted through NMSU.

Still, the center’s goal is research and Kirksey said it’s easy to keep that focus.

“If you’re paying somebody to operate a tractor,” Kirksey said, “it means you’ve pulled that person (or money) away from research.”

The center’s next event is a peanut day set for Sept. 1.