By Jay A. Rodman
Research Informs Outreach through Extension Service
On the front door of Hadley Hall, the New Mexico State University administration building, large letters spell out “Land-Grant University.” The clear message is that NMSU takes its land-grant mission very seriously.
A hallmark of that mission, applying the university’s research results to benefit constituencies throughout the state, falls largely to the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service.
Extension is more than agricultural consulting and 4-H programming. The hundreds of individuals supporting Extension offices in all 33 New Mexico counties are also working in areas as diverse as health and wellness, nutrition and family budgeting, urban horticulture, economic development and natural resources. In many cases, the specialists in these areas are themselves involved in research that informs their outreach programming.
Beyond the immediate practical benefits to families and farming operations that Extension programs provide, the state’s economy stands to benefit in many and sometimes subtle ways. Healthier citizens are more productive and require fewer medical services; communities that cooperate can create a more prosperous future; farmers who incorporate more sustainable practices can cut expenses while maintaining the land for future generations.
By translating research into practice, Extension plays a key role in President Barbara Couture’s goal that NMSU become the economic engine for the state.
Health and family well-being is an important program area for NMSU Extension. With about one in three of New Mexico’s children ages 10-17 either overweight or obese, programming to reduce the risks of obesity is a high priority.
Diana Del Campo is an Extension child development and family life specialist. One of the programs she coordinates is Just Be It! Healthy & Fit, a youth obesity prevention program originally developed in the 1990s through NMSU Extension. The program caught Del Campo’s attention in 2004 and she acquired a grant to update its content and add current technology.
The revised Just Be It is a year-long program for fifth-graders now offered in three New Mexico counties. It teaches healthy nutrition and the importance of regular exercise and helps students develop habits of making healthy choices in their lives.
Research drives improvements in the program’s implementation. Del Campo and her colleagues collect and analyze feedback from students, parents and teachers to refine the curriculum.
“We showed that students who participate in the program increase their knowledge in nutrition education, eat more fruits and vegetables and increase physical activity,” Del Campo said.
Del Campo is looking toward an expanded Just Be It program soon, both in New Mexico and beyond.
Michael Patrick is a specialist in another important Extension program area, community resources and economic development. He works with individuals and communities across the state as they tackle economic issues, and his job hasn’t gotten any easier over the past few years.
In April 2010, he and colleague Anil Rupasingha published “Rural New Mexico Economic Conditions and Trends,” a paper analyzing economic and demographic data about the state’s rural counties. Trend data included population, level of education, poverty, housing, employment, unemployment, farm income and migration.
The information in the paper is directly relevant to the state’s participation in a new pilot program, Stronger Economies Together: Strategies for Building New Economic Opportunities, which Patrick coordinates. The program supports two groups of New Mexico counties working cooperatively to maximize their respective assets and take advantage of their collective strength.
In nine months, participants will work through materials designed to help them understand the principles of economic development, set regional goals, analyze the unique assets and barriers of their regions and develop plans for concrete action.
New Mexico is known around the world as a center for the production of chile peppers. But the state’s chile production has fallen dramatically in recent years.
Stephanie Walker, an Extension vegetable specialist, is one of several people at NMSU hoping to turn things around. She has been investigating ways to enable more extensive use of mechanical harvesters with New Mexico’s green chile and cayenne cultivars, crucial to enhancing New Mexico growers’ competiveness in the global chile market. From the botanical end, she evaluates different cultivars, looking for characteristics that will make them more viable for mechanization. From the mechanical end, she arranges field tests of chile picking heads at the Leyendecker Plant Science Center and collaborates with colleagues in NMSU’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center working on mechanical de-stemming and cleaning technology.
Walker reported that in her tests of mechanical picking heads on New Mexico green chiles, a device manufactured by the Israeli company Yung-Etgar, was the clear winner. She was also encouraged by a small trial run in October 2010 to use the same picking head on cayenne peppers.
New Mexico is also one of the top pecan-producing states, which means significant export income now that the Chinese are developing an appetite for the nut. NMSU Extension pecan specialist Richard Heerema is well-versed in all aspects of pecan production, but what most interests him is the effect of mineral nutrition on pecan tree productivity.
One current study Heerema and colleagues are undertaking involves assessing how the level of nitrogen in the plant affects photosynthesis. (Robust photosynthesis activity is beneficial for nut size and quality.) Cautioning that the data have yet to be analyzed thoroughly, Heerema believes the study will help determine whether the current recommendations of nitrogen levels should be modified.
What about research in more traditional field-crop production? Sangu Angadi is a crop physiologist based at the Agricultural Science Center north of Clovis. With the importance of agricultural sustainability in mind, Angadi focuses much of his attention on crops with short production cycles and plants with minimal water needs.
One of Angadi’s recent projects has explored the viability of growing broad-leafed oil-producing plants in New Mexico. Not only is there heightened interest among consumers for safflower, sunflower and canola oils, the use of oil-rich plants for biofuel production is also potentially very profitable. Angadi has found that both winter and spring oilseed crops are suited to the High Plains region.
He also has found multiple benefits of rotating oilseed plants into fields normally planted in wheat. In order to maintain optimal soil condition, Angadi suggests a crop-rotation strategy involving both a legume and an oilseed crop, particularly canola.
“While the legume fixes atmospheric nitrogen and improves soil nitrogen status, canola offers a number of rotational benefits for the future wheat crop,” Angadi said. Enhancing canola’s economic viability, the canola meal, a byproduct of oil production, is a high-protein cattle feed.
Every day the work done at NMSU, whether on the Las Cruces campus or elsewhere around the state, adds value to our citizens’ lives. In the best tradition of land-grant institutions, the faculty and staff of the university are committed to discovering ways to improve the world and are delivering their new-found knowledge to the people who need it.