John Wilde loves the land. His farm, he says, is No. 3 on his list of treasures, behind only his wife of 37 years, Betty Jo, and his family, including sons Doug and Matt and daughters Joanna and Julie Garcia.

“My life is the farm,” he says. “Any land we buy, we typically never sell; it becomes part of my heart and soul  — and my family’s future. I’m not a wealthy man, but we’ve bought land, made payments, and it became ours.

“I got a start from my mother and father, and they got a start from their parents. Betty Jo and I will hand down land to our children to give them a start.”

Conservation plays a critical role in making sure the land remains productive. “We work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Land and water are our most valuable resources.”

About eight years ago, Wilde recognized the importance of increasing irrigation efficiency when they installed the first subsurface drip irrigation on 38 acres. Now they have 800 acres of drip-irrigated cotton. “We started small,” he says. “We had some of the first drip irrigation in the area, and we saw the benefits.”

Doug recalls visiting other farms and learning from their experience.

“We saw a lot of drip laid out in 80-inch spacing,” the senior Wilde says. “ But we found that 40-inch spacing is more efficient. And we install the tape with Global Positioning System technology — it’s more accurate.”

They hired someone to install the first field, but bought their own GPS equipment and installed the rest on their own, including 250 acres last year. “I had to push to get it in,” Wilde says.

They plant on top of the drip tape and subsoil 10 to 12 inches deep between the rows. “That helps hold rainfall,” he says. “We can look at nearby fields after a rain and see runoff, but our field absorbs all the moisture.”

They’ve reduced tillage over the past few years as well. “We’re not quite to minimum-till,” he says, “but we have reduced-tillage.”

After harvest, they shred cotton stalks, then remove them with a stalk puller. “This helps reduce root rot infestation. We disk once, then make a small bed on top of the drip tape.”

They also install furrow dikes to hold water, and plant with a GPS unit to keep rows on top of the tape. About every two years they apply manure to some fields.

“We have a dairy and a feedyard close by, so we sometimes apply as much as 20 tons of manure,” Wilde says. “We help the land and at the same time help the dairy and feedyard get rid of a waste product.”

They also use reclaimed wastewater to irrigate some fields. “We filter it and put it through the drip irrigation system.”