eNews February 2023

Robert Heyduck, Associate Research Scientist, New Mexico State University, Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde

Robert Heyduck, Associate Research Scientist, New Mexico State University, Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Robert Heyduck is an Associate Research Scientist at New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde, New Mexico. In this position, Heyduck oversees research trials and projects to ensure quality data is gathered to form meaningful conclusions. Heyduck is currently a Co-PI on the USDA-awarded project, Expanding Organic Systems To Reduce Water Demand And Increase Agricultural Resilience In The Southwest. He will be working with NM WRRI PI Sam Fernald, Co-PI Connie Maxwell, and other affiliates to develop a protocol and organic system planning toolkit designed to identify pathways to create better agricultural and water resilience for arid and semi-arid farms while reducing water demand. This will be achieved by transitioning to climate-resilient organic crops, initializing water conservation practices, and performing community outreach.

In addition to his research with NM WRRI, Heyduck’s ongoing efforts in Alcalde consist of exploring water budget studies to identify best practices and accurate water use estimates for the production of native, medicinal, and high-value alternative crops. One of the most critical factors affecting his research is climate change, which Heyduck describes as the single most significant issue in agriculture and natural resources because it encompasses almost every other minor issue. “Precipitation amount and timing will continue changing, as well as the timing of snowmelt and the availability of that water to agricultural, industrial, and residential uses. Agriculture will have to adapt, and some things we’ve been doing for a long time will just not work anymore.” To gather as much information as possible to perform more informed research, his areas of study expand into cover cropping, mulching, and other conservation measures/techniques that can improve water infiltration and slow runoff and soil loss.

From 2004-2010, Heyduck had the opportunity to perform research at NMSU’s Farmington Agricultural Science Center to investigate the water use efficiency of various crops and plants, such as hybrid poplar, turf grasses, and chiles, mainly using drip irrigation. According to Heyduck, the purpose of the studies was to determine the minimum amount of water needed to maintain the landscape and find a balance between water use and productivity.

Between 2014 and 2018, several NM WRRI field-based students were performing water balance research through community engagement and real-time monitoring of acequias and streams. Heyduck recalls that providing support and engaging with them was a highlight of his career. Further collaboration with NM WRRI students on issues related to landscape-scale hydrology, and the interface of watersheds and human systems are areas he would be interested in exploring.

Heyduck attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he earned his BS in Forestry. After he completed his Forestry degree, Heyduck worked several seasonal jobs in recreation, where he encountered traces of fire while doing routine trail work. With support from a friend, he pursued further aspects of fire ecology research at the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff. Despite wanting to attend graduate school at NAU, he ultimately achieved his MS in Agronomy from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where he picked up interests in agroecology, and the interface of agriculture and natural ecosystems.

Heyduck’s future research will involve studying various on-farm initiatives, including native, perennial, and drought-tolerant crops. He would like to investigate the role of native plant community restoration and conservation intervention in upper watersheds. Heyduck mentions that this type of management could play a part in slowing runoff, resulting in water remaining in the landscape longer, leading to improved recharge of local, shallow aquifers.