Willacy conservation district aims to curb tillage

RAYMONDVILLE — Experts here are trying to change age-old tilling techniques that are stripping the soil under many of the region’s farms and ranches.

Today, the Willacy County Soil and Water Conservation District is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to present the Third Annual Fall Tour, which aims to curb conventional tillage.

“It focuses on soil water conservation because there’s a lack of emphasis on soil health,” Enrique Gonzalez, the district’s conservationist, said yesterday. “We hope that through our programs we’re shining a light on the importance of soil conservation for our farmers and ranchers.”

Gonzalez said the program’s focus will stress the importance of reducing soil tillage.

“It’s extremely important,” he said. “We try to champion reduced till and no-till farming. That’s really what we’re trying to get people to do.”

Model farmer

For five years, Cruz Salinas has cultivated his own approach to farming — planting cover crops and windbreakers.

Today, the program’s organizers will honor Salinas as “conservation farmer” of the year.

“I feel honored,” Salinas said. “I’m happy to be doing my part as a farmer to protect our soil. It’s very important to the community, to farmers and everybody who wants to eat healthy.”

On his Lyford farm, Salinas grows cover crops and windbreakers to help protect the soil.

“When I grow my crops, I plant cover crops and windbreakers,” he said. “Both of them serve multi-purposes. My cover crops prevent weeds from growing in the bare-ground crop and their roots add nitrogen to the ground.”

Meanwhile, his windbreakers protect the soil while shielding his crops from heavy winds and hard rains.

“You lose a lot of soil to wind,” he said. “Windbreakers keep the soil from blowing and protect crops from the wind.”

Featured speakers

The morning program will feature speakers including Jacob Pekar, owner of Texas AgriScience; Danielle Sekula, a pest expert with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service; and Willie Durham, a regional soil health specialist.

Award winners

Organizers will present conservation awards to Salinas, Rogaciana Chapa Mendez and Juan Mendez of El Naranjo Ranch, Taek Kim of La Sal Vieja Ranch, Cassandra Gallardo of San Perlita High School, Andrey and Jacob Pekar of Texas AgriScience, Michelle Martin of AgMag Magazine, Harold Dean Parker and Willacy County commissioners.