Op-Ed: The importance of agriculture in El Paso

 

Do we ever stop and think about what our community would be like without agriculture? You might be surprised to find out you have more invested in agriculture than you think.

If our community were to cease production of our own agriculture, we’d have to look elsewhere to supply our needs. The first place to look would be surrounding counties – but think if those counties ceased production of their agriculture as well.

Then other counties would be searching around them, forced to look further and further out. If everyone takes these same actions, then a domino effect occurs where we will be looking to other regions and states for our agricultural goods.

At that point, the idea of anything being farm-to-table is completely obsolete. We no longer have local control of our goods. Small businesses, producers, grocery stores and restaurants all suffer. We’ll see a greater disconnect from the people and our food, in which no one will have any idea what is being used on our food or how it is grown.

This could be the road we’re headed on, unless we engage leaders, stakeholders and members of our community on the opportunities for agriculture in El Paso and why it’s central to our future.

Agriculture in El Paso currently manifests through several means: through production, agribusiness, small business, 4-H and youth development, and nature tourism. The Texas A&M AgriLife extension reaches tens of thousands of youths and adults, providing programs to transfer new knowledge and technologies to enhance communities and the environment to sustain it in this rapidly changing economy.

In 2007, El Paso County had about 600 farms. The market value of products sold was almost $50 million. This industry has had a presence in our local economy for generations. We’re also one of the top producers of cotton and pecans in Texas. These industries have had a key presence in our region. However, our community must continue to innovate to prevent our industry from slipping away.

One example of this can be found in the former dairy farms of El Paso. Back when we had dairy farming in our county, El Paso dairy farms made up about 5 percent of the milk production in the U.S., while ranking as one of the top five milk-producing counties in Texas. This is a central example of what happens when we let essential industries deteriorate.

While we have all these resources and opportunities at hand, if we don’t sit down and evaluate our strategy for the future, we’re doing our community a disservice. 

This was a primary reason why I decided to put together the El Paso County Agriculture Forum as a way to have a community conversation about the pressing issues we’re facing.

This forum brought farmers and agricultural experts in water and agribusiness together to discuss how we can diversify crops, protect land use and save resources in our region.

Agriculture has a presence in all of our lives – from the food we eat, to the water we drink, to the plants we grow and goods we produce. If we bring all the talent and expertise our community has, you can guarantee that El Paso will be a catalyst for agricultural innovation here in Texas.

The only way for us to keep agriculture in El Paso is to recognize and respect the presence it has in all our lives.