As New Mexico’s climate warms, more farmers and ranchers are working to create healthy soil from scratch.
The Village of Los Ranchos and Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are opening a Soil Health Laboratory at the Los Ranchos Agri-Nature Center to help achieve this goal.
Gabriella Coughlin, soil laboratory manager and MRGCD agronomist, said the tests will help farmers and gardeners learn which farming practices work best for New Mexico soils.
“Here in the valley, our soils are very diverse,” Coughlin said. “You could have a pocket of sand in one corner and then clay and all that stuff in between. We want to teach people to work with this complexity.
The soil, water and compost testing lab will be the only one in the state since the New Mexico State University facility closed a decade ago.
Soil tests start at $50 and take about two weeks. The lab will also offer equipment rental and in-depth testing.
Healthy soil acts like a sponge that absorbs moisture and stores water for crops during drought.
Coughlin said the tests will determine salt and pH levels in arid soils to determine how water moves through dirt.
“I tell people that just like managing your blood pressure, you
have to manage your salt content,” she said. “So if we know how much salt is already naturally in the system, and what we’re applying and adding with things like manure or compost – we need to look at all of that to see if we’re complicating that salt problem and that problem. of water infiltration.
The lab will work with soil and water conservation districts and NMSU extension offices to help growers use the test results.
Paid interns will also work in the lab, said Dan Gerry, a consultant helping Los Ranchos with a multi-year project focused on regenerative urban agriculture.
“Developing more people who know these skills is economic development,” Gerry said. “We attract more people who are interested in agriculture by gaining hands-on experience in understanding soils and how they work. »
The lab’s grand opening will include a “soil your pants” challenge, which mirrors a nationwide campaign where participants bury the underwear and dig it up within months. If the white pantyhose have decomposed, that means the soil is full of healthy microbes.
Coughlin said the citizen science project is a hallmark of the lab’s community ethos.
“We want to take people on this journey so they can understand science and how it directly relates to them,” she said. “This lab also aims to give people the tools and knowledge they can use on their own properties.”
Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America body that covers water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.