Stories From the Soil | Episode 3: Shifting Soil of the West


– [Tim] We know soils come
in many different variates, but after visiting Jay
hills operation in Del City, it gave me a whole new
perspective of how widely soils can differ from field to field. How do you manage soil
health when you have multiple soil types across your farm? Let’s hear from Jay to find
out how he manages it all. (lively drum beat) – [Tim] There’s a lot
of research out there about soil health, and a ton
of technical information. But none of it does us
any good unless we can see how it actually takes
place at the ground level. My name is Tim Hammerich from the Future of Agriculture podcast, Cool Planet and I are
gonna travel the country and capture stories about
how land stewards and growers and farmers are actually
developing there own soil health and how that impacts their lives and the food they’re growing for you. (Blues music) – [Tim] This weeks episode takes us to the Texas, New Mexico border, where I met up with Jay
Hill, co-owner of Hill Farms. – [Tim] Hey Jay – [Jay] Tim – [Tim] Good to see ya – Welcome, man – [Tim] Thanks for having us out here. – Absolutely. – So maybe start off by just
kinda settin’ the scene. Where are we right now? – [Jay] We are in beautiful
Dell City, America. We’re in far West Texas,
actually where we’re standing right here is on the New Mexico side, we’re in Otero County, New Mexico. But our farm encompasses both
sides of the border here. – [Tim] And so tell us
just- high level overview of your operation. – [Jay] So, we’re a multi faceted farm. We farm in two states, of
course. We farm vegetables. Onion seed, lettuce, pecans;
and we do a lot of alfalfa, cotton, pinto beans, corn. Just
a little bit of everything. – [Tim] Jay, would you mind
showin’ us around a little bit? – Let’s get in the pick-up and go. – [Tim] Alright. – [Tim] Tell us about
the soil in this area. – [Jay] Uniquely with
this spot, in New Mexico, as we’re coming off of a Mesa,
so we have a lot of gravel. If you go from the field
we’re standing in now, which is starting to
get into a sandy loam, even a gyp-y loam, there’s a lot of gypsum right underneath us. If we were to go back up the hill, we’d get into pea gravel.
And better water quality. – [Tim] Hmm – So, the further down
we get into the valley the worse our soil conditions get because we actually
see that gyp coming up. Small amount of caliche
rock and things like that. And then as you pull back out,
you get back into more gravel and eventually you get into stone. – [Tim] Wow. And all of that within
what- what kind of land mass – [Jay] I mean, from where we’re
standing here, we could see six or seven different soil
profiles, within a mile. Ya know, you look at what
we call a patty formation and when we do get rain, we
want have an inch of rain actually this farm has only
had a half inch rain since October of last year. But when it is mixed with water, this is exactly what happens. – [Tim] Hm And so, it creates a cellular
structure inside the dirt, that you- it’s impenetrable. Finding a way, that’s not just using acid, is what we’re up against. Is figuring out what
kind of inputs we can use to actually break
something that hard down. – [Tim] To change the structure. So, what happens if you
plant and then it gets wet and it forms that crust
before it germinates? – [Jay] It’s gone. – [Tim] Gone? – [Jay] You lose it. So, like here, you can’t plant raw seed. You can’t just go out
and plant alfalfa seed. What we have to do, is we have to go in and plant a cover crop with that and then the cover crop, ya know, using like an oat or rye or
wheat or something like that, which has got some good vigor. It’ll break that crust real quick and then you have alfa alfa,
and it’ll just follow it’s lead – [Tim] Right behind it – Mhm – [Tim] Is that how
you planted this, then? – [Jay] Yes. – [Tim] Wow. – [Jay] This was all in oats. – [Tim] Is there a reason
you started with alfalfa in this field? – [Jay] Well, they say,
ya know, alfalfa is a nitrogen fixer – [Tim] Yeah – [Jay] And so we thought
that it would be a good reason and this was a pretty weed free block and so we though “hey this
is not a bad, ya know, a bad idea to go ahead and put this here. You go across the street, ya know, we’ve got cotton over there. We have a lot of vine weed issues We have a lot of Johnson
grass, and things like that where we could take a GMO technology, clean that up for a couple
years and eventually head toward alfalfa. Alfalfa is our bread and butter out here. – [Tim] Jay then took me to
one of his cotton fields. Despite the short distance we traveled, I was amazed to see how
different the soil was. – [Jay] So, we’re at the
extreme north end of the valley. And the biggest thing up here is, depending on where your
positioned in the valley, is, depending on your water and your soil. Again, we’re coming off of a Mesa here, so out over here is what call a Mesa where everything plateaus, and over time that gravel is
eroded down into these valleys. And right in here is what we call the supreme dirt of the valley. And you can see it with
just the cotton in itself. I’ve never grown cotton
before, but what I see, I like. And, ya know, you look
down into the plant, and, I mean, it’s just loaded. – [Tim] Yeah, look at all those bowls. – [Jay] You’ve got all that fine gravel, you got a sand, you’ve got clay. For southwest farming, this is the dirt. When we came up here and saw this, I was like “This is where we wanna farm.” Soil moves daily, especially in the west. We worry about wind erosion. It’s a blessing we’re
standing in a cotton field that’s as pretty as this one is. This was planted without a cover crop, we were running late, and
we made a game time decision to slam the cotton in, and the wind hit us and I knew we lost this field. You can look across from where
we parked at and you can see, you can see where the road was, where the sand blew
and the cotton stunted. That’s changed my philosophy on soil. Cover crops is huge, ya know. And cover crops, everybody
acts like it’s something new, and it’s not. It’s, I mean, the way
that people are tilling and stuff like that, yeah, that might be. But in the west, when you get
in- we have three seasons. Ya know, we have summer, we
have fall, we have winter, we have wind. And when wind hits, if
you don’t have a way of keeping that soil from moving, and I’m learning that every year, ya know? I learned it, I learned
it on the chin this year. But we’ve gotta find ways to be able to, to keep our soil from moving. Soil health in farming is, I mean, it’s at the forefront of everything. Because without soil, you don’t have any. – [Tim] Mhm – [Jay] And so, as we look at our future, we have to plant crops with a map. And we have to sit down
and we have to look at, okay, so this crop is
gonna do this for our soil, it’s gonna take these amendments
to produce a healthy crop at the same time we have to
look at what’s the next one, then what’s the next one. So we, we try to stay seven years. Ya know, seven years is our rotation plan. If we’re looking at vegetable production, if we’re looking at, ya
know, cotton production, whatever it’s gonna be,
we have to make sure that that soil can handle
what we’re gonna put on it. At the same time, somewhere in
that process of seven years, I’m gonna spend two to three years doing nothing but trying to revitalize and try to help the root structure and help the soil
structure of the next crop. So, I’m gonna be here for a long time. God willing. And so it that’s the case, then I want my soil to be here when we do. (soulful music)

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