Saving Farms & Saving Farmers


The future of local foodsheds and food export depends on the existence of arable farmland and adequate grazing lands, as well as the citizens to do the job. Food security means keeping farms and ranch lands vital. Yet farm and ranchland have declined with because of inheritance difficulties (sole large asset, intergenerational transfer), finding  new growers and the high costs of start ups, and conversion to country homes or urbanization.

New Mexico lost 3 million farm/ranch acres between 1997 and 2007. The American Farmland Trust reports another 2.6 million acres at risk from low-density developments, especially in the high mountain valleys of the Southern Rockies and on the mixed grasslands at the base of mountains. Further land has been lost to coalbed methane extraction, solar farms, and mining.

Many farmers and ranchers have only one large asset – their land. When they retire, they sell this asset for a retirement fund. When they die, the land can become involved in family disputes and horrendous estate taxes. Who will have the farm? It is easier to cash out and divide the money than divide the land and its assets. Even if the land can be divided, the farms become smaller and smaller and soon become too small to be profitable. The combination of difficult family finances and eager developers has been devastating.

In addition, the loss of New Mexico farmland has accelerated because water speculators and cities are willing to purchase water rights now and lease back the water for the remainder of a farmer’s life or allowing dry land farming or the farmer to buy water from an irrigation district. The State has bought the water rights for thousands of irrigated acres, and shut down the irrigation to keep the Pecos river flowing at a rate that meets its obligation to Texas.

Map: Farms and Ranches Forever

Saving Farms and Ranches Map-No Caption

Download Farms and Ranches Forever map

The map shows locations of New Mexico’s prime ranch and farmland areas most at risk (red). Every agro-ecoregion has lands at risk, especially the Arid Lowlands, Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau. The acequia region (pink) contains the majority of acequia groups that protect their own waters and agro-pastoral lands. The federal government protects native grassland grazing on the Kiowa and Rita Blanca grasslands (pale green). Holdings of the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State Land Office and Valle Grande are not shown, but livestock leases help preserve private ranchland by providing increased areas for livestock. The Albequerque Project (blue star) are city-owned farms that were bought by bonds approved by voters.

Six non-profits listed on map hold the vast majority of conservation easements involved with farming and ranching in New Mexico. The Taos Land Trust has 34 agricultural trusts (each pale green dot represents 3-4 smaller trusts). In terms of acreage, the upper and middle reaches of the Rio Grande and the grassland and mountains of New Mexico’s southwest “boot heel” support the most farming and ranching conservation protection.

The State Land Office projects enhance the productivity and biodiversity of farms and ranches.

Tools to Save Land

Intergenerational Transfer

Intergenerational transfer is the transfer of ownership within a family from one generation to the next. The transfer gets complicated when one or more of the children want to continue the ag operation, and one or more don’t. A lack of family discussion and planning often precipitates a crisis when an elder farm owner becomes ill. Transfer can be accomplished, but it takes time, skilled advice, and family agreement. 

Private Trusts

Private trusts are a very effective tool for families that hold title to ag lands to keep that ownership intact over generations. They can have a significant advantage in keeping ag lands in use by simply requiring it in the trust document. But since the purpose of these trusts is to provide continuing benefit to the family, and ag use is not as profitable as almost any other use, there is a strong tendency to convert the assets used for agriculture to other uses, over multiple generations, or dissolve the trust and disburse the value of the assets. 

Public Lands

Public land trusts are local or nationwide organizations that hold title to land and conservation easements. There are literally thousands of small, local land trusts. Most deal with a specific parcel of land, a local historic or ecological feature, or a specific area. Focus varies, but the emphasis is usually on protecting the particular place from change.

Agricultural Land Trusts

Agricultural land trusts are public land trusts that focus specifically on protecting ag lands, usually on a particular piece of land, although they usually focus on preventing or limiting development, not continuing ag use. American Farmland Trust is an ag land trust, but with a national scope. Unlike other land trusts, even most other agricultural land trusts, keeping the land in ag use is integral to the core.

Tools to Save Farmers and Ranchers

  • The USDA’s Farm Service Agency, the independent Farm Credit System and the Food, Conservation and Energy Act (2008) have provisions that increasingly support beginners.
  • The New Farmer Individual Development Account. Technical and conservation assistance is provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS).
  • LandLinks helps farmers who want to sell find farmers who want to buy. See access to groups below.

Conservation Values – Agricultural Lands

The following conservation easements protect and preserve agricultural lands in New Mexico.

NRCS manages, or assisted in the purchase, of following “agricultural easements.” Check NRCS website for additions.

Farm and Ranchland Protection Program

(acquired by various entities with USDA assistance):

Dona AnnaHarris Farms, LLC142
SandovalVentana Grande (Smith)6
SandovalKoontz (via TPL)18
SandovalGonzales, Hector2
ValenciaGarcia, Ray30
ValenciaGarcia, Casey M19

Grassland Reserve Program

(acquired and held by NRCS)

McKinley & CibolaReneau/Tyler3,327

American Farmland Trust-260 acres, in Taos County, referred to as Upper Ranch and Middle Ranch or the Wilson Ranch.