Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

For the first time in several decades, agricultural producers who wish to work toward improving soil health will have access to reliable, affordable soil testing services and knowledgeable interpretation of the soil testing results. The new Rio Grande Community Soil Lab at the AgriNature center will shortly offer producers these crucial services within the state of New Mexico.

New Mexico producers have had no choice but to send soil samples out of state (AZ, OK, TX, CO) for testing after the Soil and Water Testing Lab at NMSU closed its doors a few decades ago. Testing soil out-of-state increases costs for the producers and soils advice from out-of-state agronomists often doesn’t account for local New Mexico conditions. Accurate, affordable soil testing and reliable local advice are key to developing healthy soils that can both support productive crops and sequester atmospheric carbon.

“Soil is the foundation of every ecosystem, upon which we humans depend for our survival. Yet, we often ignore the basics of maintaining healthy soil in our agricultural practices,” Steven Glass, Chairman of Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District told The Paper recently. “A renewed understanding of and appreciation for the importance of soil health has resulted from the efforts of the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group and the NM Department of Agriculture Healthy Soil Grants Program.”

The new soil testing lab will be a boon to New Mexico producers and healthy soils practitioners as soil testing is a requirement for any recipients of grants from the NMDA Healthy Soils Program, “I can’t express how excited I am to have such a valuable resource in the community,” Ben Dickerson with Soilutions Compost & Soil Yard told The Paper.

Developed in collaboration with and in support of regional Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) and the Village of Los Ranchos Agri-Futures Initiative, the local soil testing lab at the Larry P. Abraham AgriNature Center is set to open.

MRGCD Agroecologist/Soil Lab Manager Gabriella Coughlin is coordinating the development of the soils lab and has scheduled a Grand Opening on March 26, 2022, 11am – 4pm at 4920 Rio Grande Blvd. NW in Los Ranchos. For more information, call (505) 344 -6582 or email johalloran@losranchosnm.gov.

Speakers at the opening ceremony for the soil lab include the Mayor of Los Ranchos Donald T. Lopez, MRGCD Chairwoman Karen Dunning, MRGCD CEO/Chief Engineer Jason Casuga and Coughlin.

There’s a Soil Blessing/Primer Tierra by Lorenzo Candelaria of Cornelio Candelaria Organics and Mayordomo for the Primera Acequia de Atrisco. There will be Soil Testing Lab tours, demonstrations and a meet-and-greet with local conservationists.

Community Garden Tours will be offered all day. Food and drink for the event is catered by Yapopup. Mariachi Music will be provided by Trio Jalisciense. Piñatas and giveaways are provided by Rio Grande growers, vendors and artists.

“The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Village of Los Ranchos are to be commended for launching this Community Soil Lab initiative,” Glass said. “Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, along with other regional SWCDs, strongly supports the project and looks forward to seeing producers in our District benefit from increased knowledge and understanding about soil health in their fields.”