By LIANA SWARENGIN
For the Daily press
Kale Jackson remembers standing in the midst of a cotton field in the middle of the afternoon alongside his father. It was hot, miserably hot, as most New Mexican summer days can be. The two stared out over the cotton field, sweat beading on their skin.
“You want to do this?” Jackson’s father asked him. “Or do you want to get an education?”
Even though Jackson was only in elementary school at the time, the words of his father stuck with him and would later guide him towards a career in engineering. Jackson excelled in subjects such as math and science growing up, and took a special interest in geology. When it came time to go to college, he weighed his options.
Although he initially wanted to specialize in geology at New Mexico State University, he instead decided to pursue the field of petroleum engineering from Texas Tech University and graduated with his degree in 2008. Jackson, like many young people from the area, never intended on returning to Artesia.
“I wanted to get away,” he said with a laugh. “But my job placed me right back in Artesia. At first I hated it. But I knew the land and the Permian Basin well.”
Jackson indeed knew the area well. The Jackson family has been farming in the Artesia area since the early 1900s and his mother’s side of the family has been heavily involved in the oil and gas industry throughout the years.
“There was a duality of career paths laid out before me,” Jackson said. “But neither one of my parents pushed me in any particular direction. They let me decide for myself and let me discover my own niche.”
Jackson entered the oilfield at a pivotal point in the industry as he exited college.
“The Permian Basin has always been a power-driver in the oil and gas industry,” Jackson explained. “As I entered the field, we were on the forefront of the new horizontal technology that was emerging.”
Jackson was able to put his petroleum engineering degree to good use as he worked with the new technology and tested sandstone and shale and thought about what “plays” would be the most economic.
“There was a lot of science that went into it,” said Jackson. “And that science and technology really helped unlock the potential of the Permian Basin.”
As Jackson progressed in the field, he discovered that his engineering mindset gave him a unique advantage in identifying problems underground.
“I think a lot of it was intuition,” he said. “An intuition that I had developed during my years growing up on the farm.”
Jackson explained that some engineers struggle because they expect everything to go “by the book,” but that rarely ever happens in real life.
“Growing up farming, I had to learn to think outside the box like most farmers do. When it comes to raking and baling hay, nothing is ever ‘by the book’ and you have to be able to problem solve in the field to get things done. I think that’s what helped me in the oilfield. I was able to think outside the box, explore different ideas, and test them out.”
As technology continued to advance and the oilfield industry found great success in the new methods it was implementing, the Permian Basin soon became a “land grab,” said Jackson, and that’s when things began to change.
“Things became more like a mechanical assembly line out in the field,” Jackson explained. “And to be honest, I didn’t like that as much.”
Jackson was working long hours, and had to be on site for decision making as a completions engineer and superintendent. But with a wife at home and a new baby on the way, he knew keeping up with those long hours and days away from home were not what he wanted.
“That’s when I decided to go back to farming.”
In 2016 Jackson and a friend of his went in 50/50 on a new farm, and Jackson was also able to acquire a farm of his own.
“I farm about 600 acres,” he said. “Alfalfa is our main crop. Coming back, I found that farming felt a lot more natural to me than being in an office.”
Yet all those years as an engineer still paid off.
“I’ve always liked solving problems, and no matter which industry you’re in, there are going to be highs and lows and problems are going to pop up.”
Jackson once again found his skills in engineering helpful as he considered new farming technology. With the introduction of steamers, the alfalfa industry was changing.
“I wanted to be economical,” Jackson explained. “So instead of having three little balers and one big baler, I decided to have two little balers and one big baler, but also brought in steamers.”
The new steam technology has certainly made a difference in the world of farming.
“Drought years really show farmers their vulnerabilities and inefficiencies,” said Jackson. “These steamers make all the difference. Especially in a hot drought year like the one we’ve experienced this year. There’s little moisture in the air, which typically makes baling hay really difficult. But with steamers, I can still get out in the field, bale hay, and produce a high quality product to offer to the market.”
Drought wasn’t the only problem Jackson faced when he stepped back into farming. The dairy industry was also changing, and Jackson (as well as many others farmers) found that moving hay and selling to the dairies wasn’t the same as it had once been.
“It was just another problem I had to think through,” said Jackson. “I didn’t like feeling like I only had one option when it came to selling hay. The world has ‘grown smaller’ in a sense, due to cell phones and social media. It is not like when my grandpa was selling hay back in the day. I knew there must be another market out there, so I began exploring my options.”
Jackson’s hard work, time, and research made a big difference as he discovered the potential within the equestrian market.
“Through the equestrian market, I can send hay just about anywhere,” said Jackson. “I sell hay to Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, and a lot of other states east of the Rockies.”
Jackson has invested a lot of time into developing relationships and contacts within this market.
“I’ve worked really hard to find these customers,” he said. “And thankfully, with this new steamer technology, marketability hasn’t ever really been a problem. We are able to consistently produce a high quality product, and word of mouth within the equestrian communities has helped quite a bit.”
When winter comes and things slow down on the farm, Jackson still falls back on his experience in the oilfield to help support his family.
“I hustle,” he chuckled. “I find different consulting work to help keep me busy during the winter months. And I’m able to stay up to date on the new technology in the oilfield which I enjoy.”
Jackson reflected a bit on his involvement in both industries.
“I think being an engineer has made me a better farmer, and I think being a farmer has made me a better engineer.”
Jackson feels both thankful and blessed to be able to work within both the farming and oilfield industries.
“If one slows down, I can always fall back on the other to see us through,” he said.
When it comes to the future, Jackson hopes to be able to continue expanding the farm and to carry on the long lineage of farming that the generations of his own family established long ago.
“I enjoy doing this, and I hope I can keep farming for a long time,” he said. “And I hope someone in our family will continue on with the farms, whether it be my daughters and their families or my sister’s children.”
Jackson is grateful for the opportunities he has had working in both the oilfield and in agriculture here in Artesia, for the relationships and friendships he’s made in both fields, and for the love and support of his wife and children.
“The thing I’ve learned is that if we want to be shown respect, then we need to show others respect. I’ve also learned that it is really important to be good stewards of the land — both in farming and in the oil and gas industry. We need to be conscientious of the land and our impacts upon the environment, so that both industries can remain sustainable for future generations to come.”