THREE GENERATIONS of Hancocks, Dahlen, Donald and Matt, on the Lynn County, Texas, cotton and grain farm near New Home. Counting Matt and his older brother Zach Walker, the family has farmed in the area since 1919.
Dahlen Hancock can trace his agricultural legacy back three generations—to his great grandfather who was farming from the Lynn County, Texas, town of Wilson back in 1919. His grandfather moved his family to New Home, Texas, around 1941 and bought 200 acres of land with an FHA loan.
Dahlen (Day lin)is the fourth generation to farm Lynn County soil and credits lessons learned and passed down from his predecessors for instilling in him a conservation ethic that he hopes to pass along to the fifth generation to work the farm—his sons Matt Hancock and Zach Walker.
“My grandfather came through the Depression,” Hancock said on a windy, dusty day in early April that underscored the importance of his commitment to do everything possible to preserve the natural resources that have persisted for three generations and counting.
He said his grandfather, D.W. Hancock, and father, Donald, now 77 and retired, practiced soil stewardship as a routine procedure. During the Depression and the drought-plagued years that accompanied it, Dahlen’s forebears used what they knew to hold soil in place. “They did a lot of terracing,” Hancock said. Conserving resources became part and parcel of how they managed the farm. “My dad was named SCS (now NRCS) conservationist of the year in 1986,” he said. “He also built a lot of terraces and moved a lot of dirt.”
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Dahlen is adding new wrinkles to what his ancestors practiced. New technology, a more thorough understanding of soil dynamics and better cropping systems offer new opportunities. Residue management is a key ingredient for Hancock’s operation.
“I’m trying to get to a reduced tillage system,” he said. That means rotation, a practice he admits is much needed. “I am committed to adding grain to my cropping program. I can’t stay with cotton, cotton, cotton and cotton on the same fields. I need rotation to give something back to the land.”
Milo and corn are playing increasingly important roles to put more residue and more organic matter in the soil.
He planted about 540 acres of corn last year—one full pivot and several half-circles. “I even bought a combine, and I’m glad I did,” he said. Corn is a relatively new enterprise for the area. “Typically, corn is part of the crop mix north of Lubbock,” he said. “South of Lubbock we haven’t grown much corn, but with new drought tolerant hybrids, we can make it work.”
The combine gives him a bit more incentive to mix cotton and grain. “I’m planting more half-circles, too, half cotton and half milo or corn. I keep the stubble; I have to leave it on the ground.”
Moving away from tillage takes time, he said. “But I’m committed to it; it’s important to the farm. I’m not where I want to be yet, and I still have a lot to learn.”
He has some education to do with landlords as well. “I farm a lot of rented land and it’s sometimes hard to convince landlords to reduce cotton acreage and switch to milo. Cotton has always been king here.”