Ten acres. Maybe not much to work with, but for Javier Mancha it was the acreage he obtained and worked by hand when he returned from the Vietnam War in 1969. It was his start.
For the U.S. Army 1st Logistical Command veteran it was a cherished portion of God’s green Earth, and that sliver of land in Maverick County, Texas, on the Mexico border, was the beginning he needed to raise a family over the next four decades.
Mancha’s Rosita Valley farm is known for growing some of the hottest peppers and the sweetest melons. Mancha raised and sold enough produce from this fertile valley to put four daughters through college, and eventually obtained additional land 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.
“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 ingrained in Mancha’s grandchildren, who work in the summer months selling their grandfather’s producer at roadside stands.
In 1983 Mancha’s original 10 acres turned into 40, and he grew to be respected for the same high quality and dependability as his crops.
“We struggled at times, but I learned not to fight nature but (to) work with it, and I tried to learn something new every day that would make it easier for the next generation,” Mancha says.
“It is an enormous sense of pride not only to farm, but also to know that it 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, he applied a variety of conservation practices 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 says. “They helped me learn about the business. I diversified my crops so that each year I would have something to sell.”
Mancha didn’t stop at 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. He turned again to NRCS for guidance and put together a conservation plan that would help 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.”
He used a root plow for brush removal and established a test plot to see how the land would respond. The program succeeded and opened the door for several 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 undesirable trees and brush growing in his pastureland. He built cross-fences.
He also used NRCS technical assistance to improve the existing irrigation system. The ranch is located about a half-mile from the Rio Grande, and through the intricate irrigation system Mancha receives the tail water from the more than 90 miles of canal structure 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 could see how our farming and ranching community relies on that water.”
Crops were wilting on the roadside and for some residents drinking water was at an all-time low. Mancha, who serves as a director on the Maverick County Water District #1, worked with his fellow board members 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 and 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.”
NRCS also helped Mancha battle fever tick when he found himself in the middle of the quarantine zone.
Even though the tick was eradicated in 1943, they have made a comeback. Two species 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 for a rotational grazing system that allows tick riders to work a smaller area. Once a month the cattle are penned and treated.
Even though cattle are the only livestock on his operation, Mancha also manages acreage to improve turkey, deer and dove populations.
“Drought has had a major impact on our vegetation,” Mancha says, “but I was not forced to sell (livestock). 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.”