TACD Visits with Local West Tennessee Farmers

Soil Health Changes in Three Years in Haywood County and Results of Rainfall Simulator at UT Experiment Station, Milan Tennessee

by Mike Hubbs, TACD Soil Health Specialist

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On March 23, 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Bill Parker out on the Solomon Farm in Haywood County. This has been a farm that Bill has farmed the last three years. I had the IMG 2555newopportunity to previously visit the farm in October of 2015. The two previous years of cover consisted of rye and crimson clover. This year was a five-way mix aerial seeded in early October. The stand was decent despite the drought, last Fall. Also, joining me on the visit were two farmers from Haywood County, a farmer from Lauderdale County, a Farmers Cooperative employee working Tipton and Lauderdale Counties, and NRCS employees from Brownsville, Tennessee, Joshua Choate, District Conservationist, and Melissa Rodriguez, Soil Conservationist. First of all, it was amazing the surface changes in the soil noted while  digging. The soil was much fluffier or had better tilth. The structure had changed from a platy structure to much more granular and sub-angular structure. We like to see soil structure with the somewhat rounded shapes similar to marbles in a glass. They form soil-voids or pore space that leads to porosity. Porosity provides space for air and water movement most notably improved infiltration rates. We have noted anecdotal evidences for years with cover crops and no-till. We see it when comparing samples with the rainfall simulator. When compared to long-term no-till and vertical tillage and conventional tillage, samples with two to three years of history of cover crops and no-till perform better under rainfall simulator. They infiltrate better due to more cover and better aggregation due to more active soil biology. There is less run-off and erosion. Water is more efficiently infiltrated and utilized by plant roots. We also observed many earth worms in every shovel full of soil. Bill remarked that he had not seen many earthworms in the past. Earthworms is a macro biology indicator that soil health is improving. Earthworms, like other soil organisms, feed off other soil biology such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, etc. as well as soil organic material from crop residues and cover crops. Lack of tillage is very favorable to earthworms. As time persists with no-till and cover crops, earthworms and other soil biology will increase. These organisms increase nutrient cycling, aggregation of soil, and movement of nutrients and soil organic matter both upward and downward. Earthworms are nature's tillers. Another indicator that was very observable was the strong earthy smell when digging. The sweet soil aroma was much less in 2015 compared to now. Earthy smell is from geosmin, an organic compound produced from actinomycetes, a colony growing bacteria. As soil is undisturbed and organic matter increases, soil earthy smell increases.

Read more: TACD Visits with Local West Tennessee Farmers

Roller/Crimper Guidance

Guidance for Using a Roller/Crimper


Cover crops are significantly important in keeping no-till systems healthy. In any system, cover crops provide valuable benefits to the soil such as reducing erosion, soil compaction, nitrate leaching and weed pressure. Cover crops also increase the amount of organic matter, keep the soil cooler, and provide a source of nitrogen (legumes) while improving soil fertility, water infiltration and water storage capacity. One important component of cover crop management is choosing how to kill the cover crop before the cash crop is planted. This Fact Sheet provides guidance on utilizing a roller/crimper which is one of the methods available to kill the cover crop. Roller technology is used with the taller grass cover crops (cereals) and with the shorter cover crops that have flowered.

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Day with Dave (Summary of Tennessee's visit with Dave Brandt)

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)

Milan No-till Field Day, July 28, 2016

Rainfall Simulator Results at Milan No-till Field Day, 2016


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One thing different about the 2016 Milan No-till Field Day was rain. The field day began early with heavy rain in the Jackson and Milan areas. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD) had two rainfall simulators with five treatments each. The natural rainfall provided immediate results as we arrived at 7:00 am the morning of the field day. All day long we simulated rainfall with treatments receiving more than 12 inches of rainfall. Farmers and visitors could easily distinguish the differences of the treatments. The rainfall simulators were managed by Greg Brann, NRCS' State Grazing Lands Specialist and Soil Health Specialist, and Mike Hubbs (author), and TACD Soil Health Coordinator/Specialist, Matthew Denton, NRCS' District Conservationist, Trenton, Tennessee, and NRCS' Soil Conservationist, Martha Griffin, Trenton, Tennessee. We had assistance from several NRCS' District Conservationists from West Tennessee.

Read more: Milan No-till Field Day, July 28, 2016

Soil Quality Kit to Assess Soil Health

Recently, Mike Hubbs conducted a training session with Adam Daugherty, Greg Brann and eleven other NRCS and Conservation District employees from Middle Tennessee. Adam Daugherty, District Conservationist for Coffee County is conducting a study of soil health in conjunction with a grant from Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The grant will examine soil health indicators with farmers using conservation practices such as no-till, cover crop combinations, crop rotations, nutrient, and pest management in order to quantify the benefits of soil health. He invited Mike Hubbs newly hired by TACD to work with Districts and NRCS to promote soil health.

Read more: Soil Quality Kit to Assess Soil Health