UPPER FRUITLAND — A water shortage in the Rock Point, Ariz., chapter on the Navajo Nation prompted many farmers to bow out of this growing season.

The drought also nudged chapter officials to seek new solutions to old problems.

Two members of the Rock Point Chapter Farm Board boarded a hay ride Thursday at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center.

Their mission was to return home with ideas to combat the unrelenting heat and water shortage that plague farmers in the community deep in the reservation.

"We're looking for a lot of good ideas," Farm Board secretary Bobby Yazzie said. "We're thinking about drilling for water or building earth dams to store it."

Yazzie attended the field day, which was open to county and tribal dignitaries, with James Begay, who serves as vice president of the Rock Point Chapter Farm Board.

Charged with identifying solutions for farmers in their chapter, the duo asked questions of professors and specialists at the research farm located about seven miles southwest of Farmington.

And they got answers, such as low-pressure drip systems, which use gravity, elevated plastic barrels and small, above-ground tubes to deliver water to crops.

"A lot of people on the Navajo Nation are still hauling water," said Daniel Smeal, NMSU professor and irrigation expert. "Instead of carrying a bucket from plant to plant to water, we can use a low-pressure drip system.



Successful systems are in place locally, Smeal said. The systems assist farmers who, until recently, hauled irrigation water or relied on rain.

Navajo farmers are embracing modern techniques, and many find value in the research available at the science center, said Daniel Tso, processing facility manager at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, or NAPI.

"For Navajo, it's good to see varieties of crops and what would be best for this type of soil," he said. "As a people, we've taken on aspects of modern agriculture. Each one of us will use this as a learning experience individually and as a tribe to move forward."

The tour, which organizers hoped would entice as many as 50 Navajo Tribal Council delegates, was designed to showcase research and results that translate into better crop yield and products, said Kevin Lombard, assistant professor of horticulture.

"We're isolated up here," he said. "This is a way to show off the research we're doing."

Visitors perched on bales of alfalfa stacked on fladbed trucks and toured about 100 acres of land, which included plants ranging from hops to poplar trees.

The Agricultural Science Center comprises about 250 acres of land owned by NAPI.

Scientists use the land to research crop improvement, water management and weed control.

Thursday's event also attracted a dozen members of the New Mexico Agricultural Leadership program, a group of professionals in the agriculture or natural resources fields.

"We're in the Farmington area to look at the different issues affecting the Four Corners," director Avery Culbertson said. "We're interested in leadership issues in the industry and the influences made by policy makers."

The New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center hosts field days every other year.

Get more

For more information on crop yield, irrigation or growing trends, visit the center's Web site at http://farmingtonsc.nmsu.edu.

Alysa Landry: