A Day with Dave Brandt
Mike Hubbs, Tennessee Association Conservation Districts (TACD),
Soil Health Specialist, August 19, 2015
Tuesday August 18, 2015, three vehicles with 12 individuals, farmers, NRCS employees, and a TACD employee embarked to Central Ohio to visit Dave Brandt. Dave is one of the most preeminent farmers and leaders in the country in soil health. You can “Google” Dave Brandt and receive several sites and articles on his work in farming, and especially with no-till, crop rotations, and cover crops. This trip took place due to Dave coming to Jackson, Tennessee this past February and leaving the TACD convention attendees in awe with his down-home transparent personality sharing his successes as well his failures. Dave not only was the TACD Conference’s key note speaker, but also visited farms and met with local farmers in West Tennessee. He left an impression.
Kevin Brown, Tennessee State Conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), spent almost a year in 2012-2013 on detail in National Headquarters developing a foundation of a new Division of Soil Health for NRCS. He came back to Tennessee with a vision for soil health. One, was to develop Tennessee’s own Soil Health Heroes. Two, develop local working groups that would feed off one another’s successes, and learn from others’ failures or attempts of trying new things. Third, partner with TACD to hire a person to assist Districts and NRCS to publicize and train on soil health. These are just a few of his soil health visions. His past association with Dave Brandt was instrumental in bringing Dave to Tennessee for the TACD convention.
Brad Denton and Matthew Denton, District Conservationists, NRCS in the Jackson Area have led a small local working group that regularly meets to discuss soil health practices and others’ experiences. Through this local working group, Brad began working with Dave Brandt, Craig Ellis, Area Conservationist, NRCS and Kevin Brown to plan this trip. All of the above led to a trip to Dave Brandt’s.
The participants were Kevin Brown, State Conservationist, Nashville; Craig Ellis, Area Conservationist, Jackson; Brad Denton, District Conservationist, Madison and Chester Counties; and Matthew Denton, District Conservationist, Gibson County, all from NRCS, Tennessee. Joining them were farmers: Rusty and Jeff Harris, Chester County, Tim Colbert, Chester County, Charlie Roberts, Lauderdale County, Marty Hinson, Gibson County, Matt Griggs, Crockett/Madison Counties, and Adam Joyner, Gibson County. Thanks to Brad, Kevin, and Danny Sells, TACD, I (Mike Hubbs) was approved to attend.
Introduction to the Farm
We met at Dave Brandt’s farm on Tuesday, August 20, 2015 at about 8:00 am. Nice day with a high of about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, clear skies in the morning with chance of rain that thankfully held off to late afternoon. Dave began with a talk in his seed supply barn where they have a successful seed business, Walnut Creek Seeds, LLC. This company has sprung up due to the farm’s need for cover crops and also, farmers’ interest and demand for standard and custom seeding of cover crops.
The day began with Dave discussing their general and custom blends of cover crops. His seed sources are Oregon, Kansas, Africa, Australia, and others. His general seeding mixtures are 1/3 warm season grasses and legumes, 1/3 winter grasses and legumes, and 1/3 brassicas. Some farmers request just winter peas. He went on to talk about a partnership with Ohio State University using 10 X 10 plots and then trying on the farm. About 40 percent tried on 10 X 10 plots do not work in real life farming operations. Dave went on to say one major factor with working with farmers on cover crops is to know the history of herbicide applications to assure there is no carry over problems for the cover crops.
The history of the operation was shared, 1150 acres of row crops of corn, wheat, soybeans with newly acquired land beginning first year no-till to the original acres on the farm that has a history of 45 years no-till.
Read more: Day with Dave (Summary of Tennessee's visit with Dave Brandt)
The narrative below is an overview of the presentations made by Mike Hubbs and Greg Brann at the 2014 Milan No-till Day.
Soil Health: The continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living organism, sustaining and improving soil, plant and animal resources.
How do you improve soil health?
Less Disturbance: Reducing tillage is essential to protecting benefits of cover and root growth. Disturbances can also be excessive nutrients, pesticides, uncontrolled traffic, grazing without a recovery period or anything else that impacts the soil.
Increase Cover: Cover is essential to increase soil carbon; the start of improving all functions in the soil. Cover can be increased by good agronomic practices and less disturbance. Crop diversity and living roots also increases soil carbon.
Increase Diversity: Plant diversity improves soil health by providing different root exudates (sugars) to feed soil life. Different root forms and different rooting depths all improve soil health and soil life. Diversity in soil life improves resilience of the soil as well as aggregate stability. Aggregate stability is important because the soil maintains a good air and moisture relationship (pore space).
Read more: 2014 No-till Day in Milan