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AgriLife Extension offers free soil testing to growers


Farmers in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties are encouraged to take part in a free soil testing program to help the environment and their bottom lines, according to officials with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

"Our soil testing program has been very successful for many years now in helping growers know exactly how much residual fertilizer is already in the ground," said Donnie Valdez, a longtime grower in the Weslaco area and an AgriLife Extension specialist.

"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," he said.

The program started in October and will extend through the spring, Valdez said.

"Producers can obtain a soil sampling kit from their AgriLife Extension county office and return their samples 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," he said.

The soil analysis takes the guesswork out of nutrient management, according to Brad Cowan, an AgriLife Extension agent in Hidalgo County.

"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 aid in the reduction of nonpoint source pollution into the Arroyo Colorado, an important waterway in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Valdez said.

"The Arroyo is critical to drainage in the Valley," he said. "Its watershed covers portions of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, home to more than 1million people, according to census reports."

The free soil testing campaign is made possible by funding from the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, and administered through the Texas Water Resource Institute and AgriLife Extension.

For more information about the Arroyo Colorado watershed, visit www.arroyocolorado.org.

For more information about the soil testing program, contact the AgriLife Extension county office in Hidalgo, Cameron or Willacy counties.

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