Making the Best Out of the West

Cole and Kyla Hamilton and their four children are proud fifth-generation farmers of Hamilton Farms in Shallowater, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Junod Photography)

The year 2007 brought above-average rainfall across the South Plains. Cole and Kyla Hamilton of Hamilton Farms in Shallowater, Texas, were at ease knowing their farming operation was 100% irrigated and their outlook was optimistic. But the West Texas weather can be unforgiving.

A few short years later in 2011, a historic drought devastated Texas and much of the southern United States. The Hamilton’s farm was heavily impacted as water tables dropped and crops struggled to grow. Kyla said she never imagined not having access to the water capacity they have always had.

“We weren’t irresponsible with it, and there wasn’t a level of recklessness,” Kyla said. “We just saw the way it had always been and never thought this would happen to our farm.”

The family started making a plan to figure out the best way to help their farm succeed in the future and overcome any weather conditions Texas threw their way.

“We really started shifting, pivoting, making plans and researching our variety with all crops, not just cotton, not just corn, but with everything we plant,” Kyla said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is going to be the best fit for our ground in our current climate?’”

The Hamiltons are fifth-generation farmers and high school sweethearts who run a diverse farm with their four children. The couple will be going into their 15th crop year together.

“I fell in love with him and the farm all at once,” Kyla said. 

Hamilton Farms has come a long way since the terrible drought in 2011. They have worked hard to focus on soil health and water conservation efforts to make their farming operation what it is today.

“If you were to snapshot where we started to where we are now, it’s a completely different operation,” Kyla said.

“It’s our job as caretakers of the land to actually take care of the land, and not just grow crops on it.”

Kyla Hamilton

The Hamiltons credit their success to the conservation efforts they made with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service agency in Lubbock, Texas. NRCS started working with Cole’s grandfather, Clifford, in 1965, however, there was less involvement with NRCS until Cole and Kyla took over the land.

“We really just decided that it’s our job as caretakers of the land to actually take care of the land, and not just grow crops on it,” Kyla said.

Kyla Hamilton, a proud wife and partner of a fifth-generation farmer from Shallowater, Texas, shares her story of the real-life farm experience.

Mike White, NRCS resource team leader in Lubbock, said he has seen the Hamiltons make a lot of progress through their efforts.

“If you have good young farmers that see what it is going to take, they are the ones that are really making the biggest changes,” White said. “From what I’ve seen, the Hamiltons are making a lot of big changes in their farming operations in the way they manage their crops and manage their residue.”

The Hamiltons continue to work with NRCS to become an overall more sustainable operation by implementing practices such as drip irrigation, updating center pivots, developing crop rotations, planting native grasses, and using conservation tillage. Each of these practices have helped the farm with moisture retention and building soil health.

White said the conservation changes Hamilton Farms has made will set them up well for the future.  

“With the changes and the improvements that Cole is implementing and the way they’re moving I think they’ll be around for another generation,” White said. “His kids will probably be doing this in 20 years.”

Kyla described their efforts as a two-to-one ratio.

“We’re putting half as much into it, and we’re getting twice as much out,” she said. “It just takes a while to get there.”

However, the Hamiltons did not receive instant gratification through their conservation efforts. While it was discouraging at times, they eventually saw the benefits.

“We made an oath not only to each other, but to our farms that we’re going to actually take care of the land and implement everything we can and just throw everything we can at it to get it back healthy, and then keep it healthy,” Kyla said.     

She said the mentality she and her husband have when it comes to running their farm is being bigger than yourself and thinking of the future generations to come.

“Cole and I are not only farming today simply because we enjoy it,” Kyla said. “We want our kids to enjoy it, we want their kids to enjoy it, and we want this to be not a job but a lifestyle that lasts for generations. We know enough to know if we are irresponsible with what we have now, it won’t be a possibility for them.”

The Hamiltons upgraded their center pivot systems to deliver irrigation water at higher efficiency rates and to provide crops just the right amount of water when needed.