Military veterans conducting research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco include (from left) Joe Martinez, Elizabeth Arzola and Alma Olguin. The three will help explain agriculture as a career for veterans at a program Aug. 13 in Edinburg.
Military veterans conducting research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco include (from left) Joe Martinez, Elizabeth Arzola and Alma Olguin. The three will help explain agriculture as a career for veterans at a program Aug. 13 in Edinburg.

Three military veterans working at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco are especially interested in an upcoming meeting designed to help fellow veterans become involved in agriculture as a career.

All three agree that making the transition to civilian life is not easy and are anxious to help present agriculture as a possible career choice.

The program, “Agricultural Opportunities for Veterans and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers,” will be from 8:30 a.m. to noon Aug. 13 at the Echo Hotel, 1903 S. Closner Blvd. in Edinburg.

Admission is free and breakfast will be provided, according to Dr. Raul Villanueva, an organizer of the event and a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist at Weslaco.

“This program is not limited to military veterans; anybody interested in making a career move to agriculture or wanting to supplement their income with agriculture is welcome,” Villanueva said. “They will learn a lot about how to get started: how to register a farm, loan programs available, cost-sharing programs, assistance provided by AgriLife Extension and their Master Gardener program, raising livestock opportunities — just a whole range of useful information.”

The three military veterans currently working under Villanueva’s direction in Weslaco are involved in research of the sugarcane aphid, a major pest of grain sorghum.

Alma Olguin, a veteran of the Iraq war, said her exposure to agricultural research convinced her to combine her criminal justice background with entomology.

“Forensic entomology is a fascinating field that helps determine, for example, how long a murder victim has been dead based on insect activity on the body,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be on a promising career path. As a veteran, I know that many veterans struggle to get a job. This program will explain how veterans and others can find another source of income and a career in agriculture.”

Elizabeth Arzola left the military three years ago and will graduate from Texas A&M-Kingsville University in December with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science.

“My family farms grain sorghum and sugarcane, so this was a natural for me,” she said. “I look forward to helping more veterans get involved in agriculture.”

Joe Martinez, another veteran at the Weslaco center, served in Europe and Japan in the U.S. Navy.

“Military personnel are trained to help each other, and I look forward to this meeting to help my fellow veterans get started in agriculture, a field that can be rewarding financially and emotionally,” he said.

Those who attend the program will hear from the veterans, as well as two young farmers.

“In addition to veterans who are already working in agriculture, we’ll hear from two growers who can lend insight into how they broke into agriculture,” said Vidal Saenz, Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program agent and farm advisor for Hidalgo County. The Cooperative Extension Program is partnering with AgriLife Extension to present the program.

“We’ll be hearing from Fausto Salinas Jr., a farmer and rancher at F & T Farms in Edinburg, and Norma Sanchez, owner of the Monte Alto Vineyards in Monte Alto,” he said. “They will both share the roads they took to start their businesses and the obstacles they faced to get there.”

Rolando Zamora, another program organizer and Cooperative Extension Program agent for community and economic development in Willacy County, said agriculture is a viable field for veterans and others.

“This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about agriculture,” he said. “We will be able to get veterans and others started in a direction that can help them and their families become successful in agriculture production.”

For more information, contact Saenz at 956-802-6589, Zamora at 956-500-2915 or Villanueva at 956-968-5581.