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Four Corners meeting brings focus to hydrogen and agriculture plans

Luis Cifuentes, dean of New Mexico State University’s graduate school and vice president for research. (Courtesy image from video)
New Mexico State and community leaders meet in Farmington

The quarterly Four Corners Economic Development Breakfast Briefing brought community leaders, NAPI representatives and New Mexico State officials to the Farmington Civic Center Nov. 15 to discuss energy transition, workforce development and agriculture-consumer-environmental-sciences and geographical diversity, followed by workshops on those topics.

4CED CEO Arvin Trujillo introduced Luis Cifuentes, dean of the New Mexico State University graduate school and vice president for research to about 85 attendees. One group discussed the hydrogen initiative; another, the challenges of economic development. A third group traveled to the Quality Center for Business at San Juan College to visit the Makers Space and tour the facility.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu gives video presentation at 4CED Breakfast & Briefing. (Courtesy image from video)

The NMSU panel included Ken Van Winkle, associate vice chancellor for external relations and economic development; Rolando Flores, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Jay Lillywhite, department head of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business and Extension Economics; and Kramer Winingham, program director of Arrowhead Center.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu announced that NMSU was recently included on the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs list of Fulbright Hispanic-Serving Institution leaders. NMSU is one of 43 schools out of more than 500 HSI’s in the nation to make the list, he said.

Arivizu said the Physical Science Lab received more than $2 million for defense training program from the Department of Defense for the Defense Civilian Training Corps pilot program. It includes a classified-ready-employment-workforce program. The Atomic Aggies rocket club, Rising Phoenix, won the Chile Cup at the 2022 Spaceport America Cup, he said. Also, the online enrollment numbers are on track to reach 1,800 to -1,900 students by spring, and on-campus enrollment is up 2.6%. R

NMSU plans to partner with groups such as 4CED in New Mexico and seek investments to support students and improve the physical and IT infrastructure.

Chris Hunter, of Cornerstone Business Solutions and a 4CED consultant, presented information on the NAPI Energy Transition Project, which will utilize the Hydrogen Hub Grant Program.

“We’re all mindfully aware of all the changes coming to fossil fuels, and hydrogen represents a new frontier, and agriculture has always been a backbone of Farmington,” he said.

Chris Hunter, Cornerstone Business Solutions, gives hydrogen energy presentation. (Courtesy image from video)

Hunter said NMSU will work to achieve an energy transition, and he displayed an ecosphere diagram showing what hydrogen energy would look like on a farm. He talked about the importance of energy and CO2 enrichment in agriculture. and how it can help run a forklift or irrigation pump.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could also power the trucks, the mining shovel and everything else with hydrogen?” he asked, showing a photo of a hydrogen-fuel cell mining truck.

They hope to make NAPI one of the nation’s largest agriculture operations – with 78,000 acres, jobs and investment capital – and San Juan County a hydrogen experiment station for the United States. The Phasing and Potential Scale of Demonstration Project will consist of four phases. They intend to demonstrate viability for the hydrogen energy project.

As Cifuentes introduced Flores, he said the group believes San Juan College, NMSU and Fort Lewis College “can be central to creating the curriculum and the opportunities for people to transition to the new jobs” created by the energy transition.

The ACES mission, Flores added, is to be an engine for economic and community development and to improve the lives of New Mexicans through academic, research and extension programs.

Rolando Flores, dean of NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, presents at 4CED Breakfast & Briefing. (Courtesy image from video)

Developing their strengths in dealing with “arid and semiarid lands” and a national focus on Midwest agriculture remain a challenge, he said.

“That is in the process of changing,” he said.

Flores touted the NMSU’s demographics, noting that it has a 58% Hispanic student population, more than double the percentage needed to be considered Hispanic-serving.

He also cited ACES recently approved grants, including more than $41 million for Agricultural Experiment Station Research and $24 million for the Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU receives more than 40% of its funding from the state, and he said faculty is working to attract funds from federal and private sources.

Flores summarized recent advances and efforts including:

  • Thirty-nine wind turbines became operational at NMSU’s Corona Range and Livestock Research Center in February, and they’re investigating public/private partnership solar array near that facility.
  • The Heritage Farms initiative will develop on-campus lands to engage the public in the origins of their food.
  • Agriculture efficiency will benefit from multiple source digital information, data science, sensor development and artificial intelligence, and drone development.
  • The completion of 215 weather stations will make New Mexico a leader in weather coverage, a key to weather prediction for insurance and for predictability models.