Soil testing campaigns are underway in South Texas, offering tests free or at a reduced cost as a way to encourage and assist commercial agricultural producers improve fertilizer efficiency. The programs are offered by Texas AgriLife Extension.
Campaigns in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend began Oct. 1. The LRGV program continues through February; the Coastal Bend campaign ends Nov.17.
“We’re encouraging all commercial agricultural producers in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties to take part in this free soil testing campaign to help the environment and their bottom lines,” said Ashley Gregory, AgriLife Extension assistant in Weslaco. “This will be the 14th year in a row we’re offering this service and it’s been hugely successful.”
A LRGV campaign kickoff event has been scheduled from 8:30 a.m. until noon Oct. 16 at the AgriLife center in Weslaco.
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In the Coastal Bend, soil testing will determine the soil nutrient status of fields and pastures for producers in Aransas, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Kennedy, Nueces, Refugio and San Patricio counties, according to Jason Ott, AgriLife Extension agent for Nueces County in Robstown.
“Soil testing is a critical tool for farmers and ranchers,” Ott said. “With rising costs of everything from land values to fertilizers, and the downward trend of cotton and feed grain market prices, it’s important that producers put themselves in the best position to take advantage of every bit of their land’s value.”
Soil samples will be analyzed by the Texas A&M University Soil and Forage Testing Laboratory; results will be sent directly to the producer.
Dr. Levi Russell, AgriLife Extension economist in Corpus Christi, said studies show significant price increases in resources that directly affect agricultural producers.
“Between 2009 and 2013, national trends show price increases of 35 percent for nitrogen and 13 percent for potash and phosphate,” he said. “In Texas, land rent is up 19 percent, and land values are up 18 percent.”
Those increases create a squeeze on producer profits, Russell said. Successful farming and ranching hinge on close scrutiny of inputs, especially fertilizer, a significant component in every crop budget.
“Efficient use of nutrients, as well as smart shopping, is crucial for producers,” he said. “A good soil testing program can help growers make those wise shopping decisions. It’s prudent and common sense to apply only those inputs that are needed, and the only way to know what is needed is to evaluate the results of a good soil analysis.”
The annual soil testing campaign has been instrumental in reducing excess nutrients from entering the Arroyo Colorado, and “it’s a service we hope to continue providing,” Gregory said.
The LRGV soil testing program began in 2001 and has been funded by various sources, including most recently the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership. Funding was made possible from a Clean Water Act grant provided by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and administered through the Texas Water Resource Institute.
Valley producers can pick up soil sample bags and forms from AgriLife Extension offices in Willacy and Hidalgo counties and the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco, 2415 E. U.S. Highway 83 in Weslaco, according to Brad Cowan, AgriLife Extension agent for agricultural and natural resources in Hidalgo County.
Producers in Cameron County are asked to pick up sample bags and forms at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency office at 2315 W. Expressway 83 in San Benito.
“The samples can then be dropped off at the Willacy and Hidalgo AgriLife Extension county offices for shipping to the laboratory at Texas A&M University in College Station, all at no cost to producers,” he said. “Results will be mailed directly to producers.”
Cameron County producers can return their samples to the Farm Service Agency office in San Benito.
Ott says Coastal Bend producers should obtain soil sample bags and instructions from AgriLife Extension county offices. Samples and forms may be returned to the AgriLife Extension county office for a 33 percent discount on the testing fee and free shipping.
To learn more about soil fertility and mineral nutrition, producers can view the following presentations by Dr. Sam Feagley, AgriLife Extension state soil environmental specialist in College Station. The links below are large files and may load slowly:
For more information about the LRGV soil testing program, contact the AgriLife Extension county office in Hidalgo, Cameron or Willacy counties.
For more information in the Coastal Bend, contact Ott at 361-767-5223, email [email protected] or contact the local AgriLife Extension county office.