Posted at: 12/07/2012 6:00 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Ranchers and dairy farmers from all over New Mexico are in Albuquerque for the annual Stockmen's Convention - and many of them are showing their age.
Take a close look at the ten gallon hats and you'll see a lot of gray hair sticking out. That's because New Mexico has the oldest farmers and ranchers in the nation - average age 60 - and they would like to see that trend turn around.
The entire nation's farm and ranch population is aging, and fewer young people from agricultural families are choosing agricultural careers. One family that is bucking that trend is the Bidegains, who have a big ranch near Tucumcari.
"I'm totally blessed," said Phil Bidegain. "I have both of my sons back at the ranch. One's running the farm and one's running the ranch, so I've got all the grandkids close by and that's worth more than money."
"As my grandmother said, you're born of the dirt," said Phil's son Scott. "I was raised there. There's an appreciation for the land, the cattle, the way of life that's there. It's hard to understand unless you're there."
And there are fewer and fewer of us there. The last census showed only 2 percent of Americans living on farms. But that could change fairly quickly. With the world population growing, some economists say food production will have to increase 50 to 70 percent by 2050 - and it will take farmers to do that.
A huge issue at this year's Stockmen's Convention is the drought that continues its devastating grip on the Southwest. Long range forecasters say we're going to have another mild and dry winter - the third in a row - and that means a poor snowpack and rivers and reservoirs running dry.
A good many of the farmers and ranchers at this year's convenmtion can remember the last great drought. They were kids in the 1950s, and that one lasted 8 years.
This drought promises to leave New Mexico reservoirs at their lowest levels ever for springtime irrigation season, and that means less hay for livestock and more ranchers having to buy more feed at higher prices.
"It's a tough situation," said Quay County rancher Mimi Sidwell. "A lot of people decide to feed their way through the drought and hang on to their herd with a hope it's going to rain. We just decided not to feed through the drought. but sell the cows."
"We're storing up hay for the winter," said Valencia County rancher Raymond Salazar. "The barns are full and we have to get them full because we don't know what to expect next year. It's supposed to be a little bit worse or the same, no sign of improvement yet. But we can't depend on nature. We just have to wait and see what God throws in for us."
The drought is also being blamed for high milk prices nationwide.
Milk costs as much as $3.50 a gallon in some places.
Experts say that could more than double within a year. That's because the drought is causing feed prices to skyrocket.