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- 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.
Destined for dirt
His childhood days were spent in Louisiana rice fields, walking in the footsteps of brother Billy Precht. “I was blessed with fine parents and a fine brother; there was nothing but love. Billy was my older brother and a hero figure to me. Everybody liked Billy; you just couldn’t help it. We pulled red rice and cut off water together. We worked side-by-side with grown men — and kept up.”
Often from dawn to dusk, the Precht brothers walked rice levees, dragging shovels and burlap bags. They would fill the bags with mud to pad the levees — basically capping holes that muskrats or nutria had dug out. “We were boys. We simply dug in and worked hard — and I loved working beside my family. Maybe that’s how I got dirt in my blood,” he says with a grin.
By age 11, Precht was running a rice cart full-time. Tractors, equipment, machinery — it all came naturally. During summers the Precht brothers worked full-time in the rice fields of Krielow Farms, Roanoke, La., but even during the school year, the pace wasn’t much different. “As boys during the school year, we’d wake up early and flag for my dad when he was crop dusting. If there was a soybean run, we’d flag from daylight to 8 a.m.; seventeen steps and move, seventeen more steps and move, the width of the plane’s spray — all the way across the field. Then we’d get to school late, but I never thought a thing about it being hard work — that’s just the way it was.
“I cut my agriculture teeth at Krielow Farms. Everything I really learned about farming was from the Krielows. They were the finest of people — Chris, Carl and Bill. They were true family and knew everything about farming — and I mean everything.”
(For a gallery of Precht and crew at work, see Photos: Shifting farmland with Robert Precht)
Precht believes he was destined to either be an agriculture pilot or a dirt mover, and in his early twenties he chose dirt — a decision he’s never regretted. With a boost from the Krielows, Precht began moving dirt in the construction industry and it was a seamless transition: shovel to a tractor to a dozer to a bucket. But after several years in construction, Precht couldn’t shake the pull of farmland and agriculture. Through some Mennonite friends, he inquired about dirt moving openings in Mississippi, and moved to the Delta in 1994. Precht had never been involved with precision land leveling and remains indebted to the Mennonite community for a great deal of help
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a bunch of Mennonite guys over the years, and I was able to learn a lot of tricks of the trade from them. Mennonites were some of the first in Delta agriculture to begin precision land forming, and I owe a ton of what I know of land leveling to them. When you work beside someone — you watch, listen, and learn — and Mennonites were the people I took notes from.”
Just two years later, in 1996, producer Bowen Flowers, Omega Plantation, started a dirt operation and hired Precht to run the crew. “It was a no-brainer for me. We now run three rigs and Bowen lays out ground each year that keeps us very busy. I was beyond fortunate to come from southwest Louisiana and be able to work for the Flowers.”