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How farming in the New Mexico desert is adapting to more arid conditions

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The head of horticulture at an organic farm in the New Mexico desert says he is adapting farming methods as the region becomes more arid driven in part by climate change.

The land where Los Poblanos farm and historic inn is situated in the Rio Grande valley has been in use for hundreds of years and those that work it now are carrying on a farming tradition started by indingenous people, according to Wes Brittenham.

Many years ago, the farm was entirely watered by irrigation ditches but as water in the local waterways is no longer as reliable the team has modified its irrigation systems, relying on drip tubing to feed the crop, Mr Brittenham said.

He spoke exclusively to The Independent as the farm prepares for the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival, an event which willl see Los Poblanos hosting some of the talks scheduled during the festival weekend.

The event will take place from 20 to 23 May, bringing together world-renowned authors, thinkers, and passionate readers. High-profile authors such as George RR Martin, Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Asma Khan, and Jonn Krakauer, are all adding to the significant depth and breadth of the line-up, and which Mr Brittenham is also apart of.

The farm at Los Poblanos also uses sheep and alpaca to help propagate the crop, which include vegetables and garden herbs used in the kitchens at the inn’s restaurant and lavendar which is made into essential oils, he said. The sheep and alpaca chew up the surface of the soil, while their weight creates depressions allowing water to gather and seeds to take root, he explained.

“Last year, we knew that the irrigation ditches might run dry by June, so fields that we had typically relied on irrigation ditches for water, we ran drip tape and drip tubing just in case, and we did have to rely on that at certain points during the season,” he said. “Other fields we elected not to plant at all due to the uncertainty of water.”

New Mexico is a region that has seen an increase in aridity in recent years driven in part by climate change, and which is projected to continue, according to Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London. Agricultural drought is also expected to increase with greater warming, she said.

Wes Britenham talks to The Independent at the Los Poblanos Historic Inn (The Independent)
Wes Britenham talks to The Independent at the Los Poblanos Historic Inn (The Independent)

To respond to changing conditions, the farm is using “regenerative” practises such keeping soil covered, keeping living roots in it and animals on it to build a soil that holds more water and has better retention after rainfall, snowfall, or thanks to the drip system, Mr Brittenham said.

“We’re really trying to specfically target the water to the crop,” he said.

If and when water becomes so precious the farm will leave parts of it land to exist solely on rainfall, he added.

“That will be part of the evolution of the landscape based on water availability,” he said. “Mother nature is in control, and my job is to be a steward of the land that I’m charged with caring for.”

The Independent, as the Santa Fe Literary Festival’s international media partner, will be providing coverage across each day of the festival as well as during the lead up with exclusive interviews with some of the headline authors. For more on the festival visit our Santa Fe Literary Festival section by clicking here or visit the festival’s website here. To find out more about buying tickets click here.

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