- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico farmers are trying new approaches to stay afloat in the midst of an ongoing drought, according to new census data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Officials released the 2012 Agriculture Census which showed that the average net income per farm has fallen sharply in the last five years.

The agency says net cash income dropped from more than $17,500 in 2007 to $9,501.

But the 397-page report showed more participation from small farms in the Census in 2012.

Farmers have been planting more pecans, melons and specialty vegetables and there is a 56 percent increase in farms using a nursery or greenhouse, officials said. In addition, 97 percent of the state’s farms are family-owned. The USDA’s definition of a farm includes ranches and other businesses selling agricultural products.

“While these are challenging times in agriculture, it’s really interesting to see the shift in dynamic. New Mexico producers are resilient and resourceful,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte.

Across the West, livestock producers have been struggling with several years of drought. New Mexico is entering its fourth consecutive year of drought following one of the driest winters on record. The drought reached unprecedented levels last summer and nearly 70 percent of the state is still in severe drought with little promise for moisture this spring. The state’s two U.S. senators said earlier this year that statewide herd size has been reduced by 50 percent as a result of the last few years of drought.

New Mexico has weathered the drought through piecemeal responses such as temporary water-sharing agreements and watering restrictions, but town hall organizers say solutions should be more comprehensive and coordinated.

New Mexico depends on rain and snow and whatever river flows make it south from Colorado.