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Fields of Green

story by Quenna Terry

Farmer and rancher Dean Myers has used a lifetime of experience and NRCS assistance to improve his land in Baylor County, Texas.Farmer and rancher Dean Myers got an early education in the business growing up on this family’s farm in Knox County, near Gilliand, Texas, during the Great Depression. He learned how to work hard and the benefits of caring for the land and treating its resources carefully.

As a young 6-year-old boy, Myers would drive a team of horses plowing wheat and cotton fields, and dream of one day owning his own place. After serving in the U.S. Army in Germany, he returned home and made that dream a reality. He started his first farming and ranching operation in 1965 with his eldest brother. The partnership managed about 700 acres of wheat where they ran around 400 head of stocker feeder cattle and 50 pair of cows and calves on permanent pasture.

The land was thick with brush, primarily mesquite and shinnery. Myers grubbed the invasive brush and literally wore out a bulldozer. The acres of cleared brush and newly sprigged grass promoted the green, healthy pastures he had envisioned for his land. It was some of the best improvement efforts Myers would accomplish over the next 48 years.

By 1973, Myers owned and managed his own farming and ranching operation in Baylor County near Seymour, Texas. The Walking M Ranch had upwards of 900 acres and almost 400 head of stocker cattle.

Seven concrete livestock water facilities were installed in strategic locations to facilitate proper grazing distribution.With a desire to make the land better than he found it, he applied quality conservation practices on sandy land to improve grasses, grazing and water sources. Myers initially requested technical and financial assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), known at the time as the Soil Conservation Service, to install livestock pipelines, water storage facilities, and to establish Coastal Bermuda grass, all through the agency’s Great Plains Conservation Program.

Between 1991 and 2011, the Walking M Ranch transitioned to a cow/calf operation and upgraded its crossbred cattle, breeding black crossbred cows with registered black Angus bulls. With the conservation practices he had implemented, he was also capitalizing on increased wildlife from improved habitat.

In a span of five years, an estimated 900 contiguous acres were purchased to increase grazing and natural resource management. Myers also furthered his conservation plan with NRCS to address the resource concerns for plant and soil health as well as water quantity and quality. Again, he sought technical and financial assistance through the NRCS utilizing Farm Bill funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Walking M Ranch has worked with NRCS District Conservationist Jeff Groves and NRCS Technician Joe Coufal to revise the conservation plan for the ranch to include more water management projects with concrete water tanks, intensive brush management, livestock pipelines, and improved grasses.

Rotational grazing and grass sprigging have improved forage conditions on the Walking M Ranch.Myers installed cross fences on 300 acres, designed for an eight pasture rotational grazing system with more than 10,000 feet of barbed wire. NRCS helped him develop a wagon wheel pattern with available water in the center of the field. With NRCS assistance he built a livestock pond in an adjacent pasture. Additionally, Myers sprigged 180 acres with coastal Bermuda grass on sandy cropland.

“I have installed cross fences on my own and through the NRCS to improve my grazing,” Myers said. “The rotational grazing in combination with fertilizer, weed control, and rain will increase my stocking rates by 30 to 50 percent.”

Groves said, “I like working with Dean because I know things will be done right and he will always exceed our specifications.”

In 2012, Myers grubbed and sprigged about 150 acres himself. Although the drought caused a delay in his grass establishment, he is trying again this year to re-sprig in hopes that previous rainfall amounts will boost his grass establishment. He is also looking forward to the reduced time and money spent sprigging and grubbing the land.

NRCS has also helped Myers devise a prescribed grazing program to reach his goal to improve his pasture condition and stocking rates. Because the ranch is dependent on well water and three natural springs, the water sources he’s developed have helped his cattle graze more uniformly and provide water for wildlife.

The most recent intensive brush control he applied was on the upland acres of the Salt Fork of the Brazos River. Management of riparian areas along the river is important to reduce erosion, maximize grazing, and increase wildlife habitat.

Wildlife, especially deer and turkey have benefited from Myers’ improvements to the land.Although the Walking M Ranch does not utilize hunting leases or guided tours to help supplement income for the ranch, the management practices he has implemented for the cattle operation positively impact the deer, turkey, and other wildlife.

He’s incorporated additional conservation measures on his own by using an AerWay to aerate the soil to promote grass growth and increase soil health. The deferment periods followed by brush control measures and re-sprigging provide the land time to re-establish.

Myers said battling dry years and managing sandy soils hasn’t been easy. “This is some of the poorest land in Baylor County and I’ve improved it,” he said. “It just takes time, money, rain, and a lot of hard work.”

Unfortunately, some years haven’t brought much rain and the land hasn’t adequately supported the livestock. “The lack of water is one of the biggest challenges we face,” said Myers. “If you watch your cattle, they will let you know when it’s time to rotate them.”

In the early 80’s and in 2011, drought took its toll and Myers did have to destock portions of the ranch to take the pressure off of the pastures. However, with long-term conservation practices in place, he said the impacts from drought conditions have been minimized.

“Experience has been my teacher,” he said. “Sometimes the situation is out of your control when rains don’t come, but you can do a lot to prevent long-term damage from drought if you have a plan and you stick with it.”

Myers conservation efforts over the years recently earned him the title of Conservation Farmer of the Year, awarded by Miller-Brazos Soil and Water Conservation District in Baylor County.

Myers credits the technical experts of NRCS for helping him reach his goals growing grass. “I’m a grass farmer and NRCS has helped me improve my land to grow the grass I need,” he said.

His career has been devoted to helping protect the land to conserve valuable natural resources and enhancing the environment. “Rain and good land management makes all the difference in my business,” said Myers.