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In drought-plagued New Mexico, farmer places high hopes in infrastructure bill

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You probably heard a lot about that infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress recently, especially the politics of it. But we want to focus again on what's in it, or, rather, the issues it is meant to address. We're going to focus again on climate-related challenges because there's a package of measures in the bill to improve water infrastructure. Those measures are intended in part to help farmers get access to water more efficiently and sustainably, particularly in states that are battling severe drought.

One of those states is New Mexico. We wanted to hear more about how water shortages are affecting people's lives and livelihoods and what might help them, so we called Greg Daviet, a pecan farmer in Las Cruces, N.M. And he is with us now.

Greg Daviet, thanks so much for joining us.

GREG DAVIET: You're welcome. I'm very happy to be here.

MARTIN: So could you just tell us a bit more about the water situation in New Mexico? How is it affecting you and the other farmers there?

DAVIET: Sure. We're in the midst of a fairly severe drought. And farming in the desert, water is the limiting resource. And so the availability of water has tremendous impacts on our daily operations.

MARTIN: So how are you used to dealing with water issues? I mean, New Mexico is one of the driest states in the country, right? So, you know, how has this kind of played out in recent years? And is the current moment you're in particularly stressful for you?

DAVIET: So we've been farming for 115 years in this location in the desert. And so we've seen droughts. We've seen wet times. And I suspect we'll see both again. In a drought, we need to be able to adapt well to changing, variable and sometimes unpredictable water situations. So we're hopeful that the infrastructure bill will help with our water infrastructure so that we can better allocate every drop of water to be more productive for the people that rely on our products.

MARTIN: How have you adapted to changes in water availability? I mean, obviously, you weren't there for the whole 150 years. But how have you and your forebears adapted to changes in water availability in the past? Like, what have been some of the workarounds?

DAVIET: So I'm fortunate that I have lots of technology that my great-grandfather wasn't able to tap into. But at the turn of the century, the reclamation service came into being and helped to build the reservoir and the delivery system to better regulate surface water so it wasn't simply flood or drought. And today we go even further. We use laser land leveling. We used concrete lining of ditches. We just finished installing a major pipeline to more efficiently move water around on our farm. So these things help us to better deliver the water and therefore be more productive with every unit of water we're delivering.

MARTIN: Do you allow your brain to kind of go to a place of thinking that there might be a time when you can't find these workarounds?

DAVIET: So that would be a place of worry. And no, I really don't. I believe that innovation will continue to help us to find new ways to do more with less. And I believe as well that it's been wet before; it'll be wet again. Getting through drought is simply managing the survival and trying to keep us all in business until we're at the times that are a little easier to manage.

MARTIN: So we mentioned the infrastructure bill that Congress just passed. Do you have a sense of what effect that that spending on climate-related infrastructure could have on farmers like yourself in New Mexico? And if you can explain this without being too technical about it so that layfolks like myself can understand, like, what would be some of the things that would be on your wish list?

DAVIET: So for our irrigation district, the infrastructure was constructed a century ago and has very few upgrades that have been done in that amount of time. It's just so expensive to change how we're delivering the water. So it still comes through dirt-lined ditches. And being able to pipe those, being able to concrete line those and have less loss in the delivery system will improve the ability to get the water from the reservoir to our farm. And I'm hopeful that those types of projects will come out of the infrastructure bill.

MARTIN: Do you feel optimistic about the future?

DAVIET: I really do. And as part of who I am, I like to say that hope springs eternal in farming. And so every spring, it's another opportunity for me to try to do better than I did last time.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I'm going to put you on the spot here. I hope you don't mind. Scientists have said for some time that there is a relationship between climate change and more frequent and more severe storms and also more frequent and more severe droughts around the world. And I'm just wondering if, in whatever kind of space in your brain you have left, have you been following the climate talks in Scotland these past two weeks at all? I just wondered if you think that it's relevant to your life and what's happening on the farm.

DAVIET: It absolutely is. I take a different approach than you'll usually hear. I'm looking for ways to - how do I adapt to what comes? How do I change my practices? How do I get help in changing those practices for the reality of today? It turns out that predictions are difficult, especially when they're about the future. And so I don't try to predict what I'm going to need 30 years from now. How is it that we best adapt to the reality today and make today better than yesterday?

MARTIN: That was Greg Daviet, a pecan farmer in New Mexico. Greg Daviet, thank you so much for speaking with us today. I look forward to enjoying your product this holiday season.

DAVIET: You're welcome. Please eat all the pecans you want. We will make more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.