Homesteaders, nesters or sod busters. Whatever they were called they had to be an especially hardy breed to survive on a farm in eastern New Mexico in the early part of the 20th century. Some persevered and helped Roosevelt County become the agricultural center it is today.
Roosevelt County is fourth most important county in New Mexico in terms of market value of its agricultural products at $253 million according to the USDA’s last agricultural census.
Roosevelt County is number one in production of peanuts and grain sorghum and second in total milk production. Food safety and healthy, sometimes organic, products are also important to Roosevelt County growers who are proud of what they produce.
In earlier days its neighbors often referred to Portales playfully as “Goober Gulch.” That nickname derived from the early adoption (1914) of peanuts as a local row crop that grew well in the sandy soil. By 1926 peanuts were being processed and roasted commercially and the market has wavered little since that time.
Peanuts are actually not a nut at all, but a legume, in the same family as beans and peas. The plant flowers above ground and puts out “pegs” that grow into the soil where the pods grow from the peg.
The variety grown locally is the Valencia peanut, known for its naturally sweet taste and bright hulls popular for roasting in the shell. The warm, dry climate of the Southwest is ideal for the Valencia and because of that climate the use of fungicides is not as necessary as in other parts of the country. Therefore, the organic peanut market is expanding rapidly in this area.
Peanuts are a small part of the agricultural acreage of the area but because of the development of a successful niche market for Valencia peanuts the economic impact is significant. Besides the two local mills, there is also a peanut butter factory at Sunland, Inc. and a retail store where visitors can sample everything from award-winning fresh organic peanut butter to specialty sweet and savory flavored butters and candies like peanut patties and peanut brittle.
The largest agricultural impact to the local economy is the dairy industry. With approximately 40 dairies and 65,000 head of cows, the county produces 1.3 billion pounds of milk annually.
Dairies in eastern New Mexico average between 1,800 and 2,000 cows in size and most of those cows are milked three times in a 24-hour period. The black and white cows seen in most of the dairies in Roosevelt County are the Holstein breed, known for their milk production (averaging over 23,000 pounds a year). There are also a few dairies in the area that milk the smaller Jersey cows, known for their high butterfat content.
The bulk of a dairy cow’s diet is made up of forage feeds including silage and hay. That need has brought much of the irrigated farmland into production for silage. Large acreages of corn and wheat are grown specifically to be chopped and fed as silage in local dairies. The rows of large plastic bags you may see near a dairy are filled with that silage.
Production of that feed, along with transportation of the milk, employment at a large milk solids plant and cheese plant contribute greatly to the local economy.
Other Agricultural Products
In addition to peanuts and milk other products grown locally are sorghum, wheat for grain, cotton, alfalfa and chile as a niche market. Beef cattle are raised on rangeland which occupies the majority of the county’s landmass.