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San Benito Rancher Sees Green with NRCS Assistance

story by Melissa Blair

(L to R) Jason Suarez, Abel Suarez, and Oz Longoria visit about how good the forage is growing.Abel Suarez has more than a few things to smile about these days besides the rain that fell on his San Benito ranch and the Grand Champion commercial heifer at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show. Suarez has already had a first cutting of high quality Bermuda grass hay and more will be available every 33 days, as a result of the technical and financial assistance he obtained from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“I bought this place in 1961 and my background was in construction and inspecting, not farming, so the NRCS staff like Oz Longoria, were a lot of help and gave me good advice on what I could do to improve my land and my production,” said Suarez. “What used to take a week to water now takes a few days and a lot more effort. Now I just open the valve.”

Three generations of the Suarez family raise show steers and club calves for 4-H and FFA students on the ranch making good quality forage a must to keep the family business going.

“We used to lease land to cut and bale but it was low quality hay, so when we learned we could increase our forage production with less work by land leveling and improving our irrigation system on our own land, it made total sense,” said Jason Suarez, who has spent a lot of time alongside his dad and grandfather using a shovel to dike farrows and direct water to where it was needed. “Just wish we had done this a long time ago.”

Irrigating is easier with larger irrigation pipeline system and spaced irrigation valves along turnrows.Cameron County District Conservationist, Oz Longoria, visited the ranch and learned what Suarez’ goals were for the land and then made recommendations, such as increasing the size of the irrigation pipeline to 15 inches, taking a soils test for a nutrient analysis so he knew what was needed in each pan for fertilization, and also implementing rotational grazing once forage is established.

“It’s like a prescription for proper fertilization that not only will help him increase his forage production, but also lower his input costs and reduce runoff of nutrients the soil doesn’t need,” said Longoria. “Other benefits of the Suarez’s conservation efforts of installing the correct size irrigation pipes will be water savings due to better water distribution across the fields in less time and labor. We work in partnership with the San Benito Irrigation District to ensure what we recommend coincides with the canal width and water delivery.”

Even Celia Suarez, Abel’s wife, is happy about the changes that were made, which has lead to a sea of green in the pasture. “All he talked about before was how much hay he needed, where to get it and what it costs,” she said. “Now with the improvements that were made he has already baled hay at home, so he is very happy and it got him out of my hair.”

For more information on how the USDA-NRCS can provide technical and financial assistance without a fee for conservation work on your farm or ranch, contact the Cameron County NRCS office at 2315 West Highway 83, Room 103 in the USDA Service Center in San Benito or call (956) 399-2522.

Abel Suarez (right) tells how the wire screen keeps turtles and trash out of the larger irrigation pipeline.Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show 2013 Grand Champion commercial heifer was from Abel Suarez's ranch.