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A Retrospective on NMAA’s Policy Achievements

In 2013 NMAA hosted a rally to encourage the passage of a new Farm Bill. Photo: Serafina Lombardi

By David Benavides, New Mexico Legal Aid Attorney 

When I think of the New Mexico Acequia Association and its influence on the state as a whole, I think about the long arc of New Mexico history and the fact that NMAA was formed at a point when there was a historic need for acequias to gain back some of the sense of self-determination they had before modern times. 

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, acequias were one of its strongest institutions.  Elephant Butte reservoir did not yet exist, nor did the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), nor most of the larger scale agricultural districts.  Those areas were all primarily acequia agriculture, which was the backbone of agriculture in the state. As such, a great deal of deference was given to the authority that acequias had over their water rights, their easement rights, and their locally unique systems of water allocation.  Any water law or policy that acequias would have felt they needed for their own defense they probably could have easily passed in the Legislature. No one at that time could have imagined a future in which acequias would need protection or would need to be recognized and respected as valuable to the state.

78 years later, the picture was quite different.  The state’s population had almost quintupled from 330,000 in 1910 to 1.5 million in 1990, and one-third of those people lived in the Albuquerque area, which had seen its acequias largely absorbed into the MRGCD.  A similar process took place in Lower Rio Grande with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The San Juan-Chama Project was completed. These were three examples where the state had put its resources into large, expensive water projects, and had put its faith in the State Engineer to develop them. The State Engineer in turn required that water rights be more exactly quantified, and so a dozen stream adjudication suits were filed, and all of a sudden thousands of acequia parciantes were defendants in state-initiated lawsuits, and the validity of many long-held water rights were questioned.  Quantifying water rights in turn led to water rights being analyzed outside of the context of the community and the acequia that gave rise to those rights. Proposals were made to transfer acequia water rights to distant areas, without regard for the effects on the community that would lose those rights. This marked a change, where water was being treated as a commodity, rather than as an essential and integral part of rural agricultural communities. Some people began advocating – to address the issue of getting water rights where they were needed for development, industry, or municipalities – that a New Mexico-wide water market run by the state be established. The assumption in this idea was that water rights would be moved out of agriculture to whoever or wherever offered the most money.

Acequias were getting lost in this new way of thinking.  They were becoming invisible outside of their local communities, their needs neglected.  

This extremity of position was one that would spur NMAA to place a great emphasis on policy work as one way of addressing the loss of acequia self-determination and prominence. Through its Concilio, Policy Working Groups, and Congreso de las Acequias (a federation of regional acequia associations), the organization has engaged grassroots leadership to assist in identifying and addressing their most pressing concerns. NMAA has worked at the local, state and federal levels to create policies that address those concerns. After 30 years it can truly be said that NMAA has made acequias visible once again. 

Some examples of NMAA’s work influencing decision-makers include:

  • Water Right Transfers.  Acequias now have decision-making power over proposed transfers of acequia water rights, thanks to a law NMAA passed in 2003.
  • Water Banking.  NMAA several times defeated in the Legislature bills to set up statewide water marketing or statewide water banking.  Turning that conversation toward a more useful avenue, NMAA instead enacted a state law in 2003 for local water banking, whose purpose is not to market water rights but rather to protect water rights from being lost for non-use.
  • Condemnation.  NMAA passed a bill in 2009 prohibiting cities from trying to condemn acequia water rights.
  • Easement protection.  Passed in 2005, Acequia mayordomos and commissioners now have more legal remedies available to them for situations where a landowner is not respecting an acequia’s right-of-way or where a landowner is blocking or interfering with the acequia.  
  • Tort claims.  Like other public entities, acequias and their members, officers and employees are now shielded against tort lawsuits as of 2006.
  • Notice of State Engineer Water Right Transfers. In 2019, NMAA passed a law expanding the outdated system of OSE legal notices being published only in newspapers – adding on-line notice, assisting acequias in their ability to file a protest.
  • Liens for non-payment of dues.  Acequias now have a simpler process for placing liens on property after receiving a Magistrate court judgment for non-payment of dues as a way of inducing parciantes to come current on their dues.
  • Funding for acequias.  NMAA has successfully advocated many times for various types of funding for acequias the state level including funding for infrastructure improvements, adjudication expenses, and legal and technical assistance on governance issues. 
  • Federal funding for acequias. For years, NMAA worked with NM Association of Conservation Districts and our Congressional Delegation to make acequias as local governments eligible for EQIP funding for infrastructure. This was finally achieved in the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • Easement/Maintenance rights on federal land.  NMAA has campaigned to get federal agencies – particularly the Forest Service – to honor the easement rights of acequias that cross federal lands.  Including the right to do maintenance and improvements without the cost and delay of getting a permit from the agency. After twenty years of NMAA working on this issue, in 2019 we achieved a Guidance Document from the USFS directing their field offices to cease requiring permits for the repair and replacement of existing acequia structures. 
  • Supporting local governments to protect Acequias. NMAA has collaborated with local governments to strengthen ordinances that protect acequia easements, acequia served water rights, and agricultural land.
  • Court advocacy:  NMAA has also weighed in on a number of court cases involving important questions of acequia rights and water rights.  Most recently, NMAA filed an amicus brief in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, successfully defending the right of an acequia to hold its meetings in Spanish.  

Reflecting on how this was accomplished:

 In the movies, great popular movements and political change happen as if by magic – the lead character makes a speech and the world changes!  In reality, this type of progress is never made simply because you are on the side of what is right. Good ideas are almost always met with resistance, and overcoming that resistance takes a tremendous amount of effort and organizing. The gains that acequias have won over these past 30 years happened because, fortunately, acequias had several key ingredients for success:

  • Statewide Leadership.  For acequias to come together after centuries of acting locally and autonomously took a certain rarely-found type of leadership – one that was patient and credible and that inspired confidence in the vision of acequias moving beyond their local spheres of influence and building an organized statewide presence.  Slowly at first, and then accelerating under Paula Garcia’s leadership beginning in 1998, acequias joined together in a way they never had before.
  • Local Leadership. Every victory turned on the fact that countless acequia leaders stepped forward at a crucial point in time.  For example, when the water transfer law was passed giving acequias the right to decide on water transfers, each acequia had to amend its bylaws to include this new power.  Without hundreds of acequias holding meetings they would not have the trasfer protection under the law.
  • Legislative Leadership.  Acequias in New Mexico have been blessed with some of the most dedicated legislators working on their behalf.  Two stand out in particular: the late former House Speaker Ben Lujan, Sr., and Senator Carlos Cisneros, whose passing we now mourn.  They sponsored the most important of the legislation listed above. They never gave up, but remained committed to these bills until they would finally pass.  These two exceptional men exemplified what it means to be a public servant and the acequias of New Mexico are fortunate to have had them by their side.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships. NMAA has worked with a variety of organizations and entities in our advocacy through the years. NMAA’s closest partner in visioning these changes has been New Mexico Legal Aid. Additionally, NMAA is grateful for its partners across the Agricultural Community, various governmental agencies, those with interests in conservation, water resources and open government. NMAA’s issues have been ones that have often led disparate groups to find common ground in our values of protecting the land, water and its people.

The policy achievements listed here are a mere sampling of NMAA’s work. While acequias have made great strides working together, continued advocacy is vital for us not to lose the ground we have gained. Economic interests are still driving many decisions concerning water, new issues are constantly emerging, and changes long in the making such as demographic shifts, a move away from an ag-based economy and climate change, to name just a few, must be reckoned with. Through it all, NMAA is committed to being a platform that offers acequias a voice, to share our visions for policy change and to advocate together.

By David Benavides, New Mexico Legal Aid Attorney 

Job Openings – Acequia Education Coordinator & Acequia Program Assistant

The NMAA is seeking to hire two full-time positions as follows:
 
Acequia Education Coordinator: The New Mexico Acequia Association’s Acequia Education Coordinator is a full-time position that is responsible for providing acequia consultations as well as stakeholder and youth education. The position is focused primarily on responding to requests for assistance from acequias in matters relating to acequia governance.  The Acequia Education Coordinator will assist acequias through one-on-one sessions by phone, email, or in-person meetings.  Primary topics for acequia consultations include acequia bylaws, Open Meetings Act compliance, acequia easements, elections, and infrastructure planning, financial compliance, among other topics.  CLICK HERE TO REVIEW full Education Coordinator job description, overview of responsibilities, and qualification requirements.

Acequia Program Assistant: The Acequia Program Assistant is a full-time position. The primary responsibilities of the position are assist the Acequia Governance Team in providing services for acequias such as consultation on water rights, infrastructure, mapping, and governance as well as to provide education to youth and stakeholders about acequias. This includes assistance with database management and generation of reports. The Program Assistant will work as part of NMAA’s Acequia Governance Team which meets regularly. CLICK HERE TO REVIEW full Program Assistant job description, overview of responsibilities, and qualification requirements.

Anyone interested in applying for these positions should submit a letter of interest and resume via email to juliet@lasacequias.org. The positions will remain open until filled. Questions should be directed the same email or by calling the NMAA at 505-995-9644. 

Remembering Carlos Cisneros

By Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director

It is impossible to discuss the acequia movement in New Mexico during the past three decades without including Senator Carlos Cisneros as a major player. He was one of the longest-serving Senators and his passing came as a sudden shock to his friends, loved ones, and supporters. He was a staunch advocate of acequias during his 34 year tenure as a lawmaker, sponsoring numerous bills and memorials for acequias over the years in close partnership and solidarity with the state’s acequia leadership.

The first time I met Senator Cisneros, he was walking in a parade for the Mora fiestas sometime in the 1980s. Years later, as the new Executive Director of the NMAA in 1998, I met him again as Chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, the gateway through which all water bills must pass. Over the years, he would be the key sponsor of acequia and water bills, many of them with Speaker Ben Lujan of Nambe.

Over the years, he became not only an ally in our acequia cause, but also a close friend. Most of the time I spent with him was at the Capitol or at interim committee meetings. In between talking about legislation and politics, I learned a little bit about his personal history, including that he was the youngest in a large family and his parents died when he was a boy. He was raised mostly by an older sister who he continued to visit on a regular basis and help with chores around the house and yard. His parents operated a ranch and he remained connected to Acequia del Llano in Questa. Although he was not an active rancher, his roots in the land informed his values as a legislator and eventually as one of New Mexico’s greatest acequia advocates.

He started his role in leadership with his union at the mine in Questa. He was a welder, eventually earning a leadership role as a union steward. He became a Taos County Commissioner and was later appointed to the State Senate, where he would continue to serve for over three decades. He once told me that when he started as a Senator, he would work the graveyard shift at the mine and drive to Santa Fe for the legislative session the next morning. He continued to be a staunch supporter of labor and unions during his long career as a lawmaker.

Our current NMAA President, Harold Trujillo, often credits Carlos Cisneros with being a co-founder of the organization, since he passed a memorial in 1989 commemorating the founding of the organization. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when NMAA began to be engaged in legislative advocacy, that the Senator would begin passing a string of legislation that would re-shape the water policy framework in New Mexico by strengthening the water management and governance powers of acequias. Over the course of two decades, starting in 1998, the Senator would sponsor legislation with origins in NMAA’s grassroots policy advocacy.

Perhaps his most significant pieces of acequia legislation were those that he passed in 2003, with Speaker Ben Lujan as the co-sponsor in the House of Representatives: 1) acequia authority to approve or deny water transfer applications and 2) acequia authority to operate water banks to internally reallocate water rights and prevent loss for non-use. Following these bills, Senator Cisneros also created a funding stream for the Acequia and Community Ditch Education Program, which to this day is a major funding source for NMAA’s education and outreach work. Since the establishment of the program, NMAA has worked directly with over 500 acequias in updating their bylaws and developing infrastructure plans.

Even when acequia bills encountered opposition from strong interests, such as real estate developers or industry, he remained steadfast in his support of acequias. One of our elders said about him, “El Carlos no se raja.” (In English, “Carlos never gives up.”)

One of the controversial pieces he carried was a memorial about Otowi gage, a gaging point that has been a barrier to transfers from northern New Mexico to the areas south, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque. His memorial stated that it was in the public welfare of the State of New Mexico that the existing policy of not allowing transfers across the gage as a de-facto protection for areas north of the gage (located north of Pojoaque). After a three hour floor debate and split vote, Carlos remarked, “You acequias are getting me in the middle of all your battles!”

He would later go on to sponsor legislation affirming acequia easements, clarifying the flexibility in the width of acequia easements, providing stronger enforcement powers for acequias, clarifying tort immunity for acequia volunteers, and providing protections for land fallowed as a result of drought from losing their agricultural special valuation method. Most recently, he passed a bill requiring improved public notice procedures for water right applications after learning at a Land Grant Interim committee that rural communities were not being properly notified about water transfers.

During all of the years of carrying acequia bills, he served not only as a sponsor but also a teacher and mentor on the legislative process. He would always insist that when carrying a bill that we as the NMAA team diligently work to gain the support of his fellow legislators. He would say, “Make everyone understand why acequias are important and then you can gain support for your bills.” He took an active interest in every step of the process and would go the extra mile to be present for votes, sometimes running back and forth in the Capitol when he had committee hearings scheduled concurrently. Over the years, we also forged friendships with his staff and analysts who he urged to help us in every way possible to get bills passed.

An area where he had some of his greatest impact was with funding. He ensured that every year the acequia program was funded with $1.9 million in recurring funding to the Interstate Stream Commission. In years when there was more Capital Outlay, such as in 2014 and most recently in 2019, he took the lead in adding another $2 million for the ISC acequia program. Additionally, the culmination of these years of funding advocacy was to create the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund – a highlight of his legislative career.

In the 2019 legislation session, Senator Cisneros, with co-sponsors Senator Pete Campos, Senator Richard Martinez, as well as House Representatives Andrea Romero and Bobby Gonzales, passed legislation creating a $2.5 million fund with recurring funding from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund, a trust fund intended for irrigation and a beneficiary of the Land Grant Permanent Fund. This ensures a steady, recurring source of funding for acequia projects for generations to come.

New Mexico lost in Senator Carlos Cisneros a champion for the rights of rural communities to retain control and democratic decision-making over their water. He understood the unique issues facing rural New Mexico and remained a steadfast advocate throughout his career. As an acequia champion, he lifted our voices to the highest levels of policymaking in New Mexico and gave us a seat at the table. He never wavered in his support for acequias, even in the face of strong political forces that countered our collective efforts. He used his position for good. For that, we remember Senator Carlos Cisneros with great affection, con mucho carino. Estimado Senador, gracias por su apoyo y su liderazco. Estamos muy agradecidos. We are grateful for the life you lived and the fights that you fought on our behalf.

2019 Acequia Summer Conference: Young Voices, Hope for Hemp, and Mapping our Future

NMAA’s 2019 summer conference will be a vibrant gathering with diverse and intergenerational voices engaged in conversations about the future of our acequias. Young farmers and ranchers will share their stories and insights about the future of acequia agriculture. Hemp growers will assess the 2019 growing season and contemplate plans for 2020. Lastly, a network of acequia-centered mapping projects will share their motivations for mapping and its use as a tool for protection and use of acequias.

August 23rd, 2019

9:30am-3:00pm

Los Luceros Community Room

253 Co Rd 41Ohkay Owingeh, NM 87566

Please register for this workshop at www.lasacequias.org or directly at this link

or call the NMAA office  at (505) 995-9644

Sponsored by the New Mexico Acequia Association with support from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Acequias & Climate Change: Learning Together and Adapting for the Future

Join acequias for a day of learning and dialogue about a future shaped by climate change. The day will include an overview of the impacts of climate change on New Mexico’s watersheds and rivers from Dr. David Gutzler, UNM professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences followed by interactive discussions about repartimiento traditions (old and new), water harvesting, infrastructure improvements, building healthy soils, and other adaptations. We will explore practical responses as well as how climate change will affect our advocacy on water, land, energy, and agriculture policy.

June 27th 2019

9:00am-3:30pm

Juan I Gonzales Agricultural Building

Taos, NM

Please register for this workshop at: https://form.jotform.com/91636531656159

Or RSVP with the NM Acequia Association at (505) 995-9644 or email Olivia@lasacequias.org

 

Sponsored by the New Mexico Acequia Association, Embudo Valley Regional Acequia Association, Taos Valley Acequia Association, Rio Chama Acequia Association, and La Asociación de las Acequias del Valle de Mora.

Acequias and Climate Change: Learning Together and Adapting for the Future

Acequias and Climate Change

Learning Together and Adapting for the Future

Thursday, June 27, 2019

9:00am – 3:30pm

Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center

202 Chamisa Road, Taos, NM

Join acequias for a day of learning and dialogue about a future shaped by climate change. The day will include an overview of the impacts of climate change on New Mexico’s watersheds and rivers from Dr. David Gutzler, UNM professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, followed by interactive discussions about repartimiento traditions (old and new), water harvesting, infrastructure improvements, building healthy soils, and other adaptations.

REGISTER: https://form.jotform.com/91636531656159

DONATIONS ACCEPTED AT THE DOOR

Sponsored by the New Mexico Acequia Association, Embudo Valley Regional Acequia Association, Taos Valley Acequia Association, Rio Chama Acequia Association, and La Asociación de las Acequias del Valle de Mora.

 

 

 

Acequia Infrastructure Projects Funded

West Sandoval Ditch Bank Stabalization in Jemez, NM -Photo taken by Juanita Revak

Written by Paula Garcia, Executive Director of NMAA

The State Legislature passed an ambitious $7 billion budget in HB 2 which increased spending for education and road projects. The legislature also approved a capital outlay bill with over $900 million in spending for projects across the state, which are listed in SB 280 by county and by agency.

Overall, acequia budget priorities were included in the budget and capital outlay bills. The NMAA did not make any requests for additional program funding in HB 2 and the funding for FY2020 is the same as it was for the current year: $1.9 million for the acequia program at the Interstate Stream Commission, $398,000 for acequia education at the Local Government Division of DFA, $88,000 for the NM Acequia Commission, and a flat budget for the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund at the Department of Agriculture.

In the Capital Outlay bill, the highlight is a $2 million appropriation for Acequia Projects Statewide to the Interstate Stream Commission. This is in addition to the $1.9 million to the ISC for the acequia program. A similar appropriation was made to the ISC in 2014 and it was expended to support acequia construction projects over the course of three years.

Also, in the Capital Outlay bill, most of the acequias that requested funding were granted capital outlay appropriations. On the high end, Farmers Mutual Ditch in San Juan County, which serves over 600 irrigators and over 4,000 acres, received $3.2 million for water conveyance improvements. Most other appropriations ranged from $10,000 to $250,000. A complete list of acequias receiving Capital Outlay, totaling 39, is listed under the SB 280 agency list under the Interstate Stream Commission. The total on acequia capital outlay projects for FY2020 is $5.6 million.

Urgent Action Needed: Oppose Preemption of Local Seed Laws

You may remember that during last year’s NM legislative session, we came together in opposition to HB161, a bill which would have preempted local governments from enacting ordinances to regulate the cultivation and production of seeds. That bill was tabled in committee.

We have learned that the biotech industry lobbied the legislature and inserted a last-minute amendment into the budget bill, HB 2, that directs the NM Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules for seed regulation (page 141 of SFC report, New Mexico State University section 6):

“The general fund appropriation includes sufficient funding to the department of agriculture at New Mexico state university to promulgate rules to solely regulate seed.”

Like HB161 from 2018, this language seeks to grant the state the sole authority to regulate seeds and to preempt local jurisdictions from seed regulation. This would prevent cities and counties from enacting ordinances that protect native seeds from GMO seeds, for example. For more background on this issue, read this article from The New Mexico Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance https://lasacequias.org/2018/03/29/seeds-preemption-bill-tabled-2018-legislative-session/

Please contact Governor Lujan-Grisham and urge her to line item veto the seed preemption language in HB2.

Email the Governor https://www.governor.state.nm.us/contact-the-governor/

Call the Governor’s office: (505) 476-2200

Acequia Infrastructure Fund Created

The Randall Reservoir and Acequia Association recently completed a major rehabilitation project -Photo taken by Bill Adkison

The most significant piece of legislation for acequias passed in the 2019 session was the passage of SB 438 creating the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund. The sponsors of the bill (and the House companion bill HB 517) were Senator Carlos Cisneros, Senator Pete Campos, Senator Richard Martinez, Representative Andrea Romero, and Representative Bobby Gonzales. Strong supporters included Representatives Susan Herrera and Joseph Sanchez who also helped move the bill through the legislative process.

The Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund will be administered by the Interstate Stream Commission. The funding would be appropriated from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund and would be used for planning, design, and construction of acequia infrastructure projects.

The new fund builds on the existing acequia program at the ISC. The bill seeks to institutionalize recurring annual funding for the acequia projects through the Interstate Stream Commission. For more than 25 years, HB 2 has included a year-to-year appropriation for the ISC acequia program from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund, which according to Section 72-14-23, NMSA 1978 is intended for irrigation infrastructure. The annual appropriation has usually been $1.9 million but there have been some years when the NMAA has had to protect that appropriation from budget cuts. The rationale for the creation of the new fund is to ensure that the funding for the ISC acequia program is stable and recurring at a predictable amount.

The existing ISC acequia program has a long track record of successful completion of projects. Since the late 1980s, the ISC has administered acequia projects by ensuring that such projects have an engineering design, where needed, or design specifications prior to approving a project to proceed with construction. Currently, the program is staffed by two engineers who have the qualifications to review engineering designs and to assist acequias in managing their projects. The ISC also assists with inspections of construction during and after construction.

The ISC acequia program is a good complement to federal funding that is available as a cost share. It is also a good alternative or complement to Capital Outlay funding because it provides a more reliable stream of funding that is available for acequia projects.

Currently, the ISC program is part of several partnerships to leverage state and federal funding as well as technical assistance resources. The ISC partners with the NM Association of Conservation Districts and the New Mexico Acequia Association to conduct outreach to acequias and to assist acequias with infrastructure planning, applying for funding, and completing projects.

Having a statutory fund that provides reliable, recurring revenue to the acequia program at the ISC will contribute to positive outcomes for acequias who are working to improve irrigation efficiency.  The new fund will not be in effect until FY21 because the FY20 budget already had a $1.9 appropriation for the ISC acequia program. Also, the bill requires that the ISC develop guidelines for the program based on input from the New Mexico Acequia Commission and the New Mexico Acequia Association.

 

Hemp Basics: What Acequia Farmers Should Know about the Hemp Renaissance in New Mexico

Farm bill paves way for hemp growers -Photographer unknown

By Enrique Romero, Staff Attorney

There aren’t many things Washington politicians agree on these days.  The “legalization” of hemp, however, is one issue that both sides of the aisle agreed will benefit farmers across the country.  The 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress and signed into law in December declassified hemp as a controlled substance thereby opening up a market to farmers across the country.  The production of hemp, a plant known for its ability to thrive in a wide range of temperature and soil types, may especially benefit farmers in the arid Southwest.  New Mexico’s Department of Agriculture (NMDA), New Mexico State University (NMSU), and numerous entrepreneur-farmers are already looking to 2019 as a breakthrough year for hemp production in New Mexico.  In fact, at least two bills are pending in our state legislature that aim to facilitate hemp production.  Hemp has the potential to transform the agricultural landscape in New Mexico by offering small and large farmers a profitable alternative or supplement to crops like alfalfa, corn and chile.  Hemp production is not a fad; rather, it could be a key component to an agricultural renaissance in New Mexico, hopefully putting fallow acequia-served land back into production.

There is a long history behind the prohibition, but the short answer is guilt by association.  For decades, hemp was classified as a controlled substance because of its infamous cousin, marijuana.  Fortunately for the farmer, the law now provides a clear, bright line between hemp and marijuana that should help to dispel myths and destigmatize hemp production.  The NMDA’s Hemp Cultivation Rule released last December defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, containing a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of no more than three-tenths percent (.3%) on a dry weight basis.”  Clear and bright?  Well, let’s break the definition down a bit.

You probably recognize the word cannabis and associate it with marijuana.  You also probably recognize the chemical compound referenced in the definition as THC.  Hemp, like marijuana, is the cannabis plant, but with one key difference: hemp has very little of the chemical compound, THC, that is associated with a “high”.  In fact, to get the gold standard classification of hemp, your cannabis plant cannot have more than 0.3% THC.  Anything above that percentage and your cannabis plant is marijuana, a controlled substance prohibited under federal law.  And just to state the obvious, there are a lot of “cannabis” laws on the books currently dealing with medical and recreational cannabis.  Those laws are not hemp laws because those laws deal with marijuana – cannabis plants with a concentration of more than 0.3% THC.

Hemp production, though legal, is regulated in ways that an alfalfa farmer, for example, might find burdensome.  First, you need to have a license to grow and harvest hemp.  Farmers apply to the NMDA for the license and can expect to pay at a minimum of $800 for an “annual production” license fee and $6.00 per acre.  In addition to the fees, licensees are required to have their hemp crop tested to ensure that THC levels stay at or below 0.3%.  According to the Rules, licensees are financially responsible for costs associated with delivery and testing of samples.  If the samples test above 0.3%, and the NMDA determines that the crop needs to be destroyed, the cost of destruction is borne by the licensee.  In addition to these costs, farmers who are interested in entering the market need to do their research in order to make a number of important decisions, for one, whether to start crops from seed or clones.

The NMAA recently hosted a hemp workshop that attracted a diverse group of people: acequia farmers, hemp experts, and the Secretary of the NMDA.  The bottom line is that people are excited about hemp. They see hemp production as not only a burgeoning industry in New Mexico, but as a way to protect dormant acequia water rights.  If you’re interested in growing hemp, you’ll want to do your homework – a quick internet search will provide you with tons of information on the variety of hemp products, from fiber to CBD oils used for pain management, and on the profitability of the crop.  But, of course, the devil is in the details, and if you’re serious about producing hemp, you’ll want to contact local experts.

For a list of workshop presenters and other industry professionals that attended our workshop, call the NMAA at (505) 995-9644.