WESLACO — The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s soil testing campaign for the Lower Rio Grande Valley has been extended until March 31 to allow agricultural producers more time to get their soil tested, according to agency officials.
Growers in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties are encouraged to take part in the no-cost soil testing campaign to help the environment and their bottom lines, according to Ashley Gregory, an AgriLife Extension assistant in Weslaco. Gregory works with the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership for the Texas Water Resources Institute.
“Conducted every year since 2001, the soil testing program has been very successful in helping growers know exactly how much residual fertilizer is already in the ground,” Gregory said. “More than 5,000 soil samples have been collected since 2001.”
By knowing how much fertilizer is in the soil, many growers have been able to cut down on the fertilizer they apply, which can amount to a huge cost savings, especially with rising fertilizer prices, she said.
Growers can pick up soil sample bags and forms from the AgriLife Extension offices in Cameron, Willacy and Hidalgo counties and the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco, said Brad Cowan, AgriLife Extension agent for agricultural and natural resources in Hidalgo County.
“Growers can also pick up soil testing kits at a field day or other sort of training,” he said. “They can return their soil samples to any of our offices for shipping to the Texas A&M Soil Testing Laboratory in College Station. The analysis is free and results are mailed directly to the grower.”
The soil analysis takes the guesswork out of nutrient management, Cowan said.
“The results of the soil test will tell a grower exactly what nutrients are in the soil so they can pay only for the nutrients needed to meet their crop-yield goals,” he said.
Improper rates, timing or application of fertilizer nutrients can actually reduce crop yields and impair water quality via runoff, Cowan said.
“It just makes good sense to know the nutrient makeup of your soil before you add more nutrients,” he said.
Proper nutrient amounts and placement help in the reduction of nonpoint source pollution into the Arroyo Colorado and the Lower Laguna Madre, both important waterways in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Gregory said.
“The Arroyo is critical to drainage in the Valley,” she said. “Its watershed covers portions of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, home to more than 1 million people, according to census reports.”
The free soil-testing campaign is made possible by funding from a Clean Water Act grant provided the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and administered through the Texas Water Resources Institute.
For more information about the Arroyo Colorado watershed, visit arroyocolorado.org. For more information about the soil testing program, contact the AgriLife Extension county office in Hidalgo, Cameron or Willacy counties.