Ten. To some it is a perfect score, to others just another even number; but for Javier Mancha it was the acreage he obtained and worked by hand every day since he returned from the Vietnam War in 1969.
For the U.S. Army 1st Logistical Command veteran it was a cherished portion of God’s green Earth and that sliver of Maverick County, Texas, land on the Mexico border was all he needed to raise and provide for a family over the next four decades.
Mancha’s Rosita Valley farm is known for growing some of the hottest peppers and sweetest melons. It is in this fertile valley that Mancha raised and sold enough produce to put four daughters through college, and eventually obtain additional land that now allows him to raise cattle.
“I have always loved to farm,” Mancha says. “I married my wife in 1967 and began my career as a farmer in 1970. Together we have raised cantaloupe, watermelon, peppers, squash, hay grazer and alfalfa.”
Mancha has a sense of family pride that is depicted simply by listening to his story and letting his eyes tell you of his challenges in the agriculture arena.
“Mancha is a rare family name,” he explains. “When my father was 10 years old he came to the U.S. (from Mexico) and he was soon responsible for helping his mother raise a family and provide for his siblings. In 1946, he opened a grocery store in Eagle Pass and worked as a butcher and baker.”
That work ethic is still held in the heart of Mancha’s grandchildren, as they can be seen in the summer months selling their grandfather’s produce at roadside stands.
In 1983 those original 10 acres turned into 40 and Mancha grew to be respected and known for the same high quality and dependability as his crops.
Struggled at times
“We struggled as farmers at times, but I learned not to fight nature but work with it and I tried to learn something new every day that would make it easier for the next generation,” Mancha notes.
Mancha does not apply herbicides to his produce, and when mechanical weed removal will not do the trick you will see him with nothing more than a garden hoe and his own two hands taking care of his crops.
“It is an enormous sense of pride to not only farm, but to know that it is what has provided for my family,” he says. “I could not have done it alone, I had good people support me and help me along the way.”
In 1975, Mancha entered into a Long Term Agreement (LTA) with what was known as the USDA-Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Through this agreement a variety of conservation practices were applied to his Rosita Valley farm. He started and completed critical land treatment, land leveling, irrigation water management and irrigation canal lining.
“USDA-NRCS is part of the reason I can have such satisfaction as a farmer and rancher today,” Mancha relates. “They helped me to learn about the business. I diversified my crops so that each year I would have something to sell.”
Mancha didn’t stop at his 40 acres of farmland. He bought 500 acres of irrigated pastureland in El Indio that had been abandoned, abused and overgrown with mesquite and other undesirable brush. Trusting his partners in conservation he turned yet again to NRCS for guidance and put together a conservation plan that would help to achieve his goals to heal the land.
“I have enough land to support my family, I do not want anymore,” Mancha says. “I just want to work on what I have and make it better.”
As a brush removal method, a root plow was put in the ground and a test plot was put into place to see how the land would react. Shortly after, success was seen, and this opened the door for a variety of practices that now lets the land support a cow/calf operation.
Mancha worked through the NRCS-Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to root plow and remove the undesirable trees and brush growing in his pastureland, build cross-fences and used irrigation NRCS technical assistance to improve the existing irrigation system.
The ranch is located about a half mile from the Rio Grande River, and through the intricate irrigation system in place, Mancha receives the tail water off the over 90 miles of canal structure. This is used to water livestock and irrigate his thick stand of Tifton 85 and coastal bermuda.
“The Maverick County Water District #1 is responsible for the irrigation system,” Mancha explains. “The main canal broke five weeks ago and you see how quickly our farming and ranching community relies on that water.”
Water in short supply
Crops can be seen wilting on the roadside and for some resident’s drinking water is at an all time low without that water source. Mancha, who serves as a director on the Maverick County Water District #1, worked with his fellow chairmen to repair the structure and return water to the land as fast as they could.
Mancha is currently in his fourth year as a Maverick County Soil and Water Conservation District chairman were he continues to pursue his own conservation education and share with others.
“Mr. Mancha has done so much in the last four years for our district,” says Serafin Aguirre, NRCS district conservationist in Eagle Pass. “The Board has sent five high school students to Junction for the Youth Range Workshop, held district fund raisers and overall been more active within the community.”
Battling fever ticks
As the fever tick became a major concern, Aguirre and NRCS were present to help Mancha as he found himself in the middle of the quarantine zone.
Even though the tick was eradicated in 1943, with due time the Boophilus annulatus and Boophilus microplus have made a comeback. Both are capable of carrying the protozoa that can transmit the disease Babesia or tick fever, which kills cattle.
Mancha, with aid from NRCS, built the cross-fences needed to set up a rotational grazing system that allows tick riders to work a smaller area.
Once a month the cattle are penned and treated. Partnerships like this are what will close the book on the invasive species and allow livestock and wildlife to flourish in south Texas once again.
In it for the long haul
Even though cattle are the only livestock on his operation, Mancha also manages for the improvement of his turkey, deer and dove populations.
“Drought has had a major impact on our vegetation,” Mancha notes, “but nevertheless I was not forced to sell. I kept replacement heifers because of the good grass. It produces a lot of feed and has kept me in business in the worst drought in 50 years.
“Being a farmer and rancher has meant so many things to me,” he continues. “When I was young I just wanted to see my crops grow; now I know that I am part of the contribution that feeds America.
“I could easily retire, but I am not ready to give this up,” he says with a smile and deep sense of satisfaction.
Seeds, soil and water were the foundation for Javier Mancha to begin his lifetime career of farming after returning from Vietnam, and those are the same three things he still strives to conserve today.
Early in his life, Mancha served his country to protect lives and provided a living for his family. Now Mancha continues those same ethics protecting the resources on his land so he can continue providing food for Americans.
Mancha uses the saying “Arrímate al Árbol que da buena sombra” which when translated is “Get close to the tree that provides good shade.” He said this sums up his lifetime full of enjoyable and grateful experiences in the farming community and his partnership with the NRCS.