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WHEN YOU SIT DOWN AND SAY GRACE OR gobble a burger, can you trace in your mind the ingredients that will soon became your flesh and blood? Most food now arrives like the proverbial stork carrying the baby. But all dreams about healthy food and sustainable agriculture must actually start with Nature. What soils and water grew the food? Who grew it? We must look at farming and ranching in a special way. Farming and ranching are, for the most part, human-managed ecosystems; landscapes in which our species has tried to govern soils, water, weather, plants and animals. Dreaming New Mexico calls these diverse landscapes “agroecoregions” to reflect the long history — thousands of years — in which humans have hunted, gathered, cultivated crops and raised livestock in what is now New Mexico (Colorado Plateau, Southern Rockies, Central Plains, High Plains, Arid Lowlands, Transition Mountains). The six agro-ecoregions are not pristine. With the addition of irrigation from massive waterworks, natural rainfall has become “effective soil moisture.” Hoes, plows, tractors, soil amendments, domesticated livestock and fertilizers greatly altered the soil’s tilth. Custom-designed plants and animals dominate; many are special cultivars from industrial-breeding programs. Hand labor, machines and herbicides remove unwanted plants (“weeds”). Companion plants, crop rotations, integrated pest management, petroleum-based pesticides, and traps and rifles limit unwanted animals (“pests”). Hoops, greenhouses, anti-frost irrigation systems and fans, windbreaks, mulches and greenhouse gases, modify the weather.

Nevertheless, agro-ecoregions ensure that we start with the essentials: the land and waters that sustain us. We have mapped the agro-ecoregions, their climates, and some of New Mexico’s seasonal crops. All three tell us what can be produced and cannot be produced and what season we can expect to eat locally or import food.

The crucial reports for local food economics are Ken Meter’s report by agro-ecoregion — the first ever done for a complete state. Agro-ecoregions are the most local foodsheds and the heart of agro-ecoregional food hubs. The reports should help three kinds of readers:

  1. New Mexican citizens who live in or near one or more of the agro-ecoregions and want to grow and market food;
  2. US citizens who live in a similar agro-ecoregion such as the Rocky Mountains or the High Plains; and
  3. Anybody interested in how to see agriculture from the point of view of natural systems and capital (soil, water, climate). The reports include economics, food health, ranches and farms, land and sales, principal farm/ranch products, vegetables harvested by county, direct and organic sales, conservation practices, farm production balance, total crop and livestock sales, consumer expenditures on food, and more! Read them to become local and read them to know how to understand your own agro-ecoregion.

We lay out the major agro-ecoregional dreams and also more details for further study.

Agro-Ecoregions Map

Agro-ecoregions-No Caption

Download Agro-Ecoregions Map

New Mexico’s mountain ranges, the Continental Divide, the Rio Grande valley and the eastern plains create the quilt of agro-ecoregions. The box in each agro-ecoregion lists the main sources of irrigation and most profitable crops. The circles show the percent of cash receipts from livestock vs. crops for each agro-ecoregion. For social data on poverty rates, income, population and more see the web site and Ken Meter’s Agro-ecoregion reports. Find your agro-ecoregion, determine what grows best and which crops/livestock
can be raised and processed.

Agro-ecoregions are human-managed ecosystems. The rainfall has been modified by irrigation, the temperature by greenhouses, the soils by adding fertilizers and other amendments, and the plant are, of course, mainly crops and livestock useful to us as food, fiber and fuel. New Mexico has a long history of farming and irrigation that greatly intensified with tractors; massive dams and piping; groundwater pumping; European sheep, goats, cattle and horses; petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides; and industrial crop breeding. Today, there are six distinct agro-ecoregions each with many micro-climates. They extend into parts of other states as well as Mexico. New Mexico agro-ecoregions include the Colorad Plateau, the Southern Rockies, the High Plains, the Central Plains, the Arid Lowlands and the Transition Mountains and Plateaus.

Map of Climate Diagrams

Agro-ecoregions Weather Map-no caption

Download Agro-Ecoregions Weather Map

“Climatograms” portray the weather in each agro-ecoregion, the crucial conversation of agrarian life. Two graphic lines (the rain/snowfall line and the temperature line) define dry and wet periods (see legend). When rain exceeds temperature, the soil moisture can support plant growth. When the temperature exceeds rain, soils dry quickly, plants transpire large volumes of water, and the crops may wilt. Below the climatogram, the solid black line covers months with many days at or below freezing. Cross-hatch (when data were available) represents months above freezing, but with one or more days below. Green bar is months without freezing (safe growing season). Note how: growing season shrinks going north and up in elevation; summer rains in Roswell and the winter/snow on the Colorado plateau define their wet seasons; aridity is year-long in NM near El Paso; summer drought can occur in the north-east through high evapotranspiration, despite good rainfall. Farming has partially overcome weather constraints by irrigation and greenhouses. Grass for livestock still depends almost completely on weather.

Seasonal Cycles Map

 Seasonal Cycles Map-No Caption

Download Seasonal Cycles Map

Each crop has its own seasonal schedule of planting and harvesting dates. There are few generalizations, thus the diagrams give examples of only a few New Mexico crops. Seasonal cycles also govern when pesticide, herbicide or integrated pest management tasks shouls occur, when soils should be tilled and amendments added, and when orchard trees should be pruned. Each kind of livestock has its own seasonal cycle of birth, movements and culling. Seasons determine when free-range livestock young need most protection from predators. New Mexico’s agro-ecoregions have six major growing (frost-free) agro-ecoregions, each with many more microclimates. New Mexico agronomists breed special varieties of crops and livestock for each region. Dream: A public that is more in tune with seasonal harvests, celebrates them, preferentially buys from the local foodshed and relies less on a seasonal imports and controlled-temperature storage. Climate change has already altered the harmony between cultivar and seasonal cycles, and farmers may need special help as temperatures rise and rainfall changes.