What is in this article?:
- It takes a special breed to get in the tractor box and roll all day. Each day, Robert Precht, chief of Omega Plantation’s dirt operations in Clarksdale, Miss., shifts the ground that feeds the world, and there is no role he would rather play.
Robert Precht began working as chief of dirt operations for producer Bowen Flowers, Omega Plantation, Clarksdale, Miss., in 1996. “Agriculture workers aren’t just people that stumble into the work. This is a way of life; a part of the heart; and something in the blood,” says Precht.
But with a reputation as one of the best dirt movers in the business, Precht preaches a convincing land forming gospel, and backs up every point. “Land forming is the most efficient way to farm. Once land is leveled, you can utilize the water flow. Some fields are flat-leveled, but we use a slope which allows water to get on quick, get off quick, and the crops won’t burn. Once you land form, the acreage is good for years and years.
“It’s better for a farmer when he goes to the bank and he wants to get a loan. The bank wants to know if the land can be irrigated. If it’s been land-formed — the answer is a simple yes. The land value, dollars and cents, will go up immediately after farmland is precision leveled, and the yield returns are better.”
(For a gallery of Precht and crew at work, see Photos: Shifting farmland with Robert Precht)
Precht and his crew, Chris Davis and Dewey Smith, dig the highs and fill the lows, while maintaining a tight watch on efficiency by keeping all the cuts close. Conserving diesel and utilizing time are crucial to productivity, emphasizes Precht. “We get a game plan based on what surveyor Bill Strowd shows us and what Bowen Flowers feels is right. You never, never want to haul dirt from one end of the field to the other. Instead, we bring it to grade and carry it across as we go, keeping everything as close as possible.”
The Omega crew pushes the dirt in a single direction and heads towards the low spot — the hole. And no matter the stage of the process, Precht makes sure the natural drain remains wide open. “Block your drainage even for a day and you just might catch a 2-inch rain. Then you’ll be stuck with a lake instead of farmland,” he says.
Pilot or farmer?
When Precht speaks, his past betrays him. His Southern drawl is laced with Cajun flavoring — and he gets it honest. Born and raised in Cajun country, 100 miles west of Baton Rouge in Roanoke, La., his grandfather was a cattle and rice farmer; his father, Bill Precht, was a crop duster. Farming and machinery lessons formed the bulk of his upbringing, but his formative influences weren’t one-dimensional. Precht’s mother, Beverla, made certain of that: “My mom painted and taught painting my whole life. With her art skills and a heart as big as this planet — that’s where I got my creative nature. She passed those painting skills to me.”
Precht’s father was highly skilled as well — far beyond aviation ability. Bill worked stained glass during winters, despite being colorblind and needing Beverla’s help to color scheme. There was nothing ordinary about Precht’s parents: a colorblind crop duster working stained glass; assisted by a remarkably talented painter. And all the while, Precht was soaking up the dexterity of his father and the creative direction of his mother.
Hands of the father, heart of the mother.