Joseph and Jeremy Gonzales are doing something different with their Gonzales Land and Cattle operation in Lovington, N.M., and it’s got neighbors noticing.
There is a marked difference in this patch of the southeastern New Mexico community with vibrant, green fields of alfalfa. How are these producers beating the odds against the drought and perpetual wind that nearly all farmers and ranchers face in New Mexico?
The secret is in the water – not how much is used but how it is applied. Thanks to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Gonzales brothers replaced their antiquated and inefficient pivot systems with the Low-Elevation Spray Application (LESA) system.
EQIP is one of dozens of programs offered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) private farmers and ranchers as well as the Tribes and Pueblos in New Mexico can use to improve their agricultural operations. “We are beginning, young producers and a little help allows us to implement practices such as the LESA system,” said Jeremy.
The brothers used this technical and financial assistance and added a 21st Century spin to their operation. Instead of having to physically drive to the pivot system or turn a nozzle, Joseph or Jeremy can grab their smart phones, press a few keys, and their center pivots kick-on and shut-off. Yeah, there’s an app for using the center pivot.
The Gonzales brothers admit that they were uncertain at times about becoming full-time producers. The thought of expansion was daunting but not overwhelming. They slowly built up to 260 acres. Jeremy, 31, and Joseph, 26, are not typical New Mexico farmers. This state has the oldest median age of farmers in America – at nearly 60 years of age.
The LESA system provides a lengthened nozzle extension from the center pivot lines, which offers a more even spray pattern so that most of the water dispensed reaches the soil. Traditional center pivot systems spray from a higher plane and are subject to solar and wind evaporation.
“Even with the drought and persistent heat and wind we have actually seen yield increases. We feel we are getting more of the applied water into the ground. No wind loss and decreased evaporation surface area seem to be the main factors for the yield increases,” said Jeremy.
In addition to the LESA system, the Gonzales brothers have installed Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) systems, such as bubblers or drag socks. A bubbler is a nozzle that disperses water evenly over the ground and drag socks drag on the ground to disperse water. The landowner or operator decides which option to use since they both are effective. These types of nozzles are less forceful than those that dispense water directly on the ground, which would cause the soil to erode. The Ogallala Aquifer is the Gonzales’ main source of water. The Ogallala water level is less than half of its capacity, so water conservation is smart and necessary.
Gonzales Land and Cattle also has installed flow meters, chemigation valves, and computerized pivot panels. The flow meter allows for a better measurement of the proper amount of water needed. The chemigation valve stops pesticides and herbicides from entering ground water. The computerized pivot panels allow the brothers to operate their equipment remotely. The new panels are beneficial and allow them to program their watering schedule more efficiently, especially in between alfalfa cuttings.
Additionally, the computerized pivot panels have a text messaging feature that alerts the Gonzales brothers to any problems the system could encounter. They are better able to keep track of how the pivots are performing without doing physical checks. Gonzales Land and Cattle is influenced by 21st Century technology. As beginning farmers, the Gonzales brothers are eager to learn about the latest technology and apply it to their farming operations.
The growth hasn’t been in just the crops; the Gonzales brothers also have grown. “I never grew up from playing in the dirt; it (farming) is like playing with my Tonka (trucks) in a huge sand box. It’s just that my toys got bigger,” said Joseph.
Other beginning farmers like Jeremy and Joseph can contact the nearest NRCS office to learn about opportunities specific to their operations. The NRCS District Conservationist and staff can help map out a conservation plan; provide Technical Assistance and explain what programs can best help make an agricultural operation grow. New Mexico NRCS has a Field Office in every county except Los Alamos. Visit the local NRCS office or check the web at: www.nm.nrcs.usda.gov.