Water-focused soil project expands to NM

Sheep graze on Maggie Eubank’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country. The ranch is part of the Soil for Water project, which is expanding to New Mexico and five other states. (Courtesy of Maggie Eubank)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Maggie Eubank knows that the soil, plants and water on the 2,000-acre livestock operation her family manages in the Texas Hill Country are just as important as their pigs, cows and sheep.

The ranch is one of 15 Texas properties building healthy soil as part of the Soil for Water project, which is expanding into New Mexico and five other states.

“In this area of Texas, we get, on average, a good amount of rainfall, but it happens maybe twice a year,” Eubank said. “Water retention is paramount for us. We need to be able to capture as much water as we can and, if it all comes at once, we need to slow it down.”

The ranch team has cleared invasive plants, used no-till planting and rotational grazing, restored riparian areas and monitored native grass growth. Soil for Water, a brainchild of the National Center for Appropriate Technology and Holistic Management International, started after a 2011 drought that decimated Texas ranches.

Kara Kroeger, a sustainable agriculture specialist with NCAT, said the program’s peer-to-peer network lets producers share how they use livestock as a soil-building tool.

“One benefit most ranchers see when they start changing their management is an increase of organic matter in the soil,” Kroeger said. “That helps create that sponge effect so the soil can hold more water.”

The project enrollment process is now open for livestock producers in New Mexico, Colorado, California, Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia.

NCAT will work with the local Natural Resources Conservation Service and the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group to help land managers adapt the regenerative practices to their own ranching and farming businesses.

“We tell our landowners that there’s not a lot you can learn about your soil by just driving your truck and looking out at the pasture,” Kroeger said. “You have to monitor and pull soil samples to see how things are changing.”

For ranchers like Eubank, the soil projects are worth the effort.

“We have two young boys, and they’re able to see with their own eyes how the work pays off when we do it right,” she said. “Seeing how the landscape changes the longer we’re here is amazing. All it takes is a different way of thinking, and some hard work.”

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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