Note: This op-ed originally appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News.
New Mexico’s two largest private industries, energy production and agriculture, are deeply ingrained in our state’s history and culture. Yet when most of us open the refrigerator door or walk through the supermarket, we don’t consider their wide-ranging benefits to the state economy, its communities and even our public education system.
Together, these two industries support almost 150,000 jobs and contribute $17.2 billion to the state economy, while also providing us with the resources to heat our homes, drive to work and feed and clothe our families.
Agriculture and its related industries add more than 48,300 jobs and generate over $5.9 billion in output for our state economy, according to New Mexico State University’s Linebery Policy Center for Natural Resource Management.
The development of oil and gas in New Mexico is another economic engine for our state. The industry supports more than 100,000 jobs and adds $11.3 billion to the state economy. But more so, the energy produced helps fuel almost every other industry in our state, including farming and ranching.
From roasting and processing chiles to transporting cattle and dairy to market, New Mexico agriculture relies on energy. According to the Consumer Energy Alliance, the agriculture industry in New Mexico spent nearly $90 million for fuels and oils and another $49.6 million for electricity in 2016. This energy is used to power equipment, manufacture fertilizer and move products.
Affordable energy helps everyone in our state. An increase in the price of energy will necessarily drive up the price of food, which would disproportionately harm the many New Mexicans living on fixed incomes or receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Both of these economic drivers rely on state lands. Thirty percent of oil production and 20 percent of natural gas production occur on state lands. There are about 3,500 state land leases for livestock grazing and crop production. Potash (various salts that contain potassium) has important agricultural uses in fertilizer and animal feed and other minerals are also mined on state lands.
State lands support tens of thousands of jobs for New Mexicans in oil and gas production, agriculture, mining of minerals like potash, and renewable energy. For decades these activities have safely occurred and coexisted alongside other important uses of state lands, such as recreation and tourism, which also make major contributions to New Mexico’s economy.
In return, these activities on state lands generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue for the state, 85 percent of which goes to fund public schools around the state. In fiscal year 2018, $773.5 million was distributed from state trust lands funds to schools, colleges, and universities across the state. In the last five years, New Mexico State University has received $17.8 million from revenues linked to state lands.
New Mexico has faced economic headwinds, but we’re turning the corner and have many reasons to be optimistic about 2019, especially as our economy is continuing to diversify.
A skilled and educated workforce will continue to attract new businesses to our great state, like Netflix in Albuquerque or Admiral Cable and Stampede Meats in southern Doña Ana County. Other industries are expanding across the state.
Our state’s strong agriculture and oil and gas industries — bolstered by state lands — can continue to power our state and contribute to building the strong education system we need for sustained prosperity.
To fully capitalize on this opportunity, we must continue to grow — in energy, agriculture, and all other sectors that are creating a brighter future for our great state.
Chad Smith is CEO of New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau. Kyler Nerison is executive director of New Mexicans for Economic Prosperity, an economic advocacy coalition that includes includes chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, trade associations, and other non-profits across the state.