By Chuck Slothower
FARMINGTON&mdasah;Navajo Agricultural Products Industry officials on Friday pressed Sen. Tom Udall for help in funding expansion of the farm enterprise south of Farmington.
Udall, D-N.M., toured NAPI's new flour mill and the San Juan College School of Energy's 30th Street facility. Udall is scheduled to participate in the Northern Navajo Nation Fair parade today.
The Navajo Nation's flour mill is set to begin production Oct. 31. NAPI is negotiating agreements with Walmart and Kroger, among others, to get its packaged flour on store shelves.
The mill will process wheat produced by NAPI. The firm plans to undercut competitors, offering 25-pound bags of flour for the same price for which others sell 20 pounds.
"We are going to go in with a very aggressive marketing plan," said Brandy Webb, manager of NAPI Flour Mill LLC. "If you can go to the store and get more for your money, you're going to try it."
NAPI flour shipments are scheduled to Los Angeles, Arizona and elsewhere in New Mexico as soon as the mill begins producing flour, she said.
NAPI CEO Tsosie Lewis told Udall the federal government needs to get going on the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, a massive plan to deliver water to the reservation.
"We've got to get off the dime on the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project," Lewis said. Costs will continue to escalate the longer the project is delayed, he said.
Udall said he would work for more predictable funding for NAPI through the regular appropriations process.
"We recognize it's been a problem," he said. "These continuing resolutions are no way to fund a government. We understand that."
Lewis detailed several projects being undertaken by NAPI. He said NAPI wants to use aerial drones to manage irrigation. NAPI could begin flying drones next year pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Udall also spoke with San Juan College officials at the School of Energy, which recently received a $4 million gift from BP America to build a new headquarters.
Randy Pacheco, dean of the School of Energy, said the school could soon offer field technician training in Ohio, where operators in the Utica Shale need more experienced personnel.
Pacheco added that he is to give a presentation Oct. 30 to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington on the college's field technician training.
Udall complimented Pacheco for being invited to speak. "That's a real honor to be asked by them," he said. "It really is."
Udall also commented on President Barack Obama's widely panned debate performance against Republican Mitt Romney on Wednesday.
"I think he was a little rusty," Udall said. "Romney debated many more times during the primaries. I think (Obama) will be back in good form on the next one."
Obama may also have been surprised at Romney's change in positions, Udall said.
"I think he was a little shocked at this new Romney," he said.