Seated high in the cab of a tractor and pulling two massive buckets, Robert Precht rumbles toward the center of a field of unforgiving Delta buckshot soil. He’s been in the box for 12 hours straight, peeling back layers of Mississippi farmland — coordinating and commanding on a sea of dirt. He shuts down the tractor, climbs down from his perch, and breathes in the smell of broken ground. This is his world — Robert Precht has dirt in his blood.

At 50 years old, he carries the pride and passion of a family heritage steeped in the common facets of agriculture — farming, crop dusting and ag equipment — but there is nothing ordinary about Precht. Despite spending hours alone every day on a tractor, his manner is not solitary in any fashion. Ride with him and expect a bundle of energy; ask him a question and prepare for a flood of words. Precht cannot contain an ounce of his love for farming and life — it spills out of him. “What I do now is not a job to me; it’s my life. I am blessed to work in the fields and I get paid to do something I love.”

As chief of Omega Plantation’s dirt operations in Clarksdale, Miss., he hits the fields of Coahoma County each day with a three-man crew, shaping and land leveling some of the richest soil in the United States. Even while working with lasers, GPS and a web of precision agriculture instruments, Precht keeps a simple outlook: “The bottom-line question about moving dirt: How will it match out? When you form a field, the dirt never matches out perfectly. It’s either long or short and it’s my job to get as close as possible.”

 

(For a gallery of Precht and crew at work, see Photos: Shifting farmland with Robert Precht)

 

Delta land looks level to the eye, but Precht knows otherwise. “Think about it — a rolling field contains a ton of hidden lows. When it rains, the field turns into a series of big and little puddles,” he says.

Land forming is costly. Diesel, labor and equipment costs cause many farmers to shy away from the expense. The benefits for farmers don’t show up overnight and the financial returns from any long-haul investment lack flash appeal.