Agriculture is deeply entwined in the fabric of East Texas culture. If you don’t personally own land that is or was in agricultural production, I’m sure many of you have memories of being on somebody’s farm picking vegetables, chasing chickens or even pulling weeds. Though it seems that most people have turned away from growing their own food, many are coming back to this way of life with excitement and eagerness. With this excitement comes the need to be educated on improved ways of going about starting this new venture. This is where I come in. I am Ashley Pellerin, the Smith County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources and I am employed with the Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program. My job is to bring research-based information in the area of agriculture to the masses. I received my B.S. degree in Animal Science from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama and my master’s degree in Agricultural science with a concentration in goat breeding and genetics from Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee. This weekly agriculture section will be dedicated to keeping you informed on agricultural information pertinent to East Texas communities. I will cover everything from livestock care to lawn care; from water conservation to understanding the new 2014 Farm Bill.
To start off, let’s discuss the importance of having a healthy soil. Healthy soil, no matter if you want to grow a lush stand of St. Augustine grass in your front lawn or 100 acres of coastal hay, is important in ensuring you get the best results possible. Soils have important direct and indirect impacts on productivity and even water quality. A good stand of grass can help prevent erosion which can help keep nearby bodies of water cleaner. Healthy soils also help hold nutrients that need to be taken up by the plant roots for growth and maintenance. A simple soil test can help you assess your lawn or pasture to see if it is optimal for plant growth or if you need to fertilize to meet the minimum requirements for plant development. When having a soil test done, the 3 most important macro-nutrients to look at are: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is a necessary part of all plants. It is a part of chlorophyll and aids in leaf development; it is vital to the process of photosynthesis which is necessary for healthy plant growth. Phosphorus is used by plants to help with root, seeds, fruit and flower development. Potassium helps plants make strong stems and keeps the plant growing fast. Depending on the management of your land, soil samples can be taken and evaluated every 2-5 years. Some people choose do it annually. For those who grow vegetables, crop rotation can help maintain the health of your soil. Soil samples are inexpensive and come with fertilizer recommendations. You can pick up wax-lined soil sample bags and submittal forms free of charge from your local county extension office. You will be responsible for the sample fee and for shipping to soil to the soil testing lab. Your local county extension agent can go over the results with you if you need help understanding the recommendations.
So before you start that garden or plant that grass seed, please take some time and get a soil test done. I would like this column to be based off of information you want to know about. Agriculture encompasses more than just livestock and field crops, homeowners who want to know about lawn care, ornamental flowers and water conservation methods are certainly topics that can be discussed. I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you find the information I will provide useful and relevant. Feel free to e-mail me suggestions for topics you would like to see in this section in the future. Ashley.Pellerin@ag.tamu.edu
By Ashley Pellerin CEP Extension Agent (AgNR)