- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - A new government survey shows New Mexico has more farms and ranches than it did five years ago.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture survey also shows the state has seen significant increases in the number of young and minority farmers in recent years.

State Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte said he’s glad to see a wider diversity of people getting into farming and ranching across the state. That diversity will help create more opportunity, he said.

“I’m proud of the increased numbers of young and beginning farmers and ranchers in the state, which assures us that agriculture will continue to be a major economic driver in New Mexico for years to come,” Witte said.

The 2012 agriculture census shows there are more than 24,700 farms and ranches in New Mexico, an 18 percent increase since 2007. That bucks a long-term national trend that has seen the number of U.S. farms drop. Meanwhile, the amount of land for farming in the state has remained steady at about 43.2 million acres.

The survey also found that the number of minority-operated farms rose in the last five years, especially in the Hispanic community. The number of Hispanic-operated farms climbed from approximately 6,400 to more than 9,300.

The value of New Mexico agriculture products in 2012 came to $2.6 billion, a 17 percent jump from 2007.

“Part of what we are seeing is that more farmers and ranchers in New Mexico are taking the time to fill out the census as they understand the importance of having data that reflects agriculture trends in their communities,” New Mexico State Statistician Longino Bustillos said.

According to the USDA, a farm is any place that produced or sold at least $1,000 worth of agricultural products during the Census year. As a result, the agency also classifies nurseries and greenhouses as farms.

A final report from the Census of Agriculture is expected in May with information about New Mexico farm operators down to the county level.

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