Ag producers urged to use free soil tests

HARLINGEN — The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for the Lower Rio Grande Valley is continuing its soil testing program for agricultural producers through the end of the month.

The free program is in its 17th year, and it aims to pinpoint and reduce agricultural runoff into the Arroyo Colorado.

“What we’re trying to do is to improve runoff rates, nutrient runoff rates, going into the arroyo — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium,” said Victor Martinez, AgriLife Extension assistant for the Texas Water Resources Institute in Weslaco.

“The nutrient runoff, the loadings, go in and it decreases the dissolved oxygen so bacteria kind of thrives on a lot of that stuff, and that’s really not good for the fish or for the ecology within the arroyo,” he added.

Martinez said he and others involved with the soil testing serve as liaisons between growers and funding options which can be used to improve ag practices and inhibit nutrient runoff into area waterways.

“What they’re called is Best Management Practices, or BMP,” Martinez said. “That includes land leveling, different irrigation practices and nutrient management. I can refer producers to financial and technical assistance through the state soil and water conservation board and through the USDA (U.S. Agriculture Department) and RCS (Recovery Credit System).”

Agricultural producers can pick up soil sample bags and forms from AgriLife Extension offices in Willacy, Cameron 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.

“The samples can then be dropped off at the AgriLife Extension 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.”

Extension Service contacts for soil testing

– Cameron County, 1390 W. Expressway 83, San Benito, 956-361-8236,

– Hidalgo County, 410 N. 13th Ave., Edinburg, 956-383-1026,

– Willacy County, 170 N. 3rd St. Raymondville, 956-689-2412,

– District 12 Office, 2401 E. Highway 83, Weslaco, 956-968-5581,