Jack Schuster was a west Texas native and a farmer known for taking care of the land. Like his father, H.E. Schuster, he wanted to leave the land in better condition than he found it for generations to come, and that’s exactly what he did.
Jack passed away on July 6, 2014, but he left behind the 70-year legacy of conservation improvements that he and his father implemented, including grass plantings, conservation cropping systems, terraces, diversions, strip cropping, minimum tillage, and improved irrigation systems from open ditch to underground pipe.
The late Jack and H.E. Schuster made conservation history on December 20,1957, when they signed the first Great Plains Conservation Program (GPCP) contract in Texas and one of the first to sign up in the nation through the USDA's Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
GPCP, a new federal program at the time, was created by Congress in 1956 to help farmers and ranchers in the Great Plains protect their light and fragile soils from erosion and to stabilize production in this drought-prone area. The program offered both technical and financial assistance from NRCS.
Despite historic drought conditions, the Schuster family’s conservation accomplishments were extensive in the 1950s. As visionary and progressive farmers, having lived through the Dust Bowl, they found value in the investment to install practices that would help conserve their water and keep their soil in place.
"Jack leaves a living legacy in the conservation ethics he has established on his land that benefits many Texans," said Darren Richardson, NRCS assistant state conservationist in Lubbock. "He will remain an example of how to conserve our resources during the hard times and how to improve them for the future."
Some of the more involved practices planned in the Schuster’s GPCP contract exceeded $12,000, which was a considerable investment at the time. The practices included over 10,000 feet of terraces to prevent runoff and erosion and more than 8,000 feet of underground pipeline that took the place of open ditches.
In 1995, Jack received the Celebration of the Land award by the Black Water Valley Soil and Water Conservation District and NRCS to recognize him and his family for their original work of installing and maintaining practices on the land for almost 40 years.
Today, nearly 57 years later, the farm continues to be managed in a similar fashion, with many of the original conservation measures in place to help control wind and water erosion.
NRCS first allocated funds for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to replace GPCP, the water quality incentives program and the Colorado River Basin salinity control program in 1996 to continue helping producers like the Schuster family with financial and technical assistance, and to implement conservation practices, or activities like conservation planning that address natural resource concerns on their land.
Jack Schuster was a true steward of the land and his conservation efforts are remembered for the outstanding stewardship he demonstrated throughout his life.