Soil Health Heroes

Alex Johnson

West Tennessee Farmer Making a Difference in Soil Properties

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Alex Johnson of Henderson County, Tennessee is our 43rd Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. On May 3, 2018, I had the privilege of spending some time visiting with Alex, his father, Mr. Johnson, and Meredith Crosby, NRCS District Conservationist, Henderson and Decatur Counties. Alex is a retired physician who also farmed his final 10 years of his medical career, which was quite challenging. He now farms full-time with his father. Alex became interested in changing farming practices to improve soil health by reading about nutrient management and soil health changes. Once he tried it; he was hooked and has been consistently growing covers for the last five years. IMG 3904new

IMG 3899newThe Johnson farm is located in eastern Henderson county near Lexington, Tennessee. They farm upland loess fields (windblown silt) and creek and river bottoms. When we first went to the field for the interview for this article, Alex remarked that recent flooding on the Beech river showed muddy water coming off a nearby neighbor who uses tillage. In contrast, the water running off Alex's farm was clear. Many of the covers that we walked in were head high (6 feet) and some that were chest high (4.5 half feet). Alex told us that the cover crops are suppressing weeds, and he has reduced one herbicide spraying per year. He also uses IPM (Integrated Pest Management). He has reduced annual foliar fungicides. If scouting shows the need, he will apply them. He said that he is saving conservatively $34.00 per acre on herbicide and fungicide savings.

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Claude Callicott

Humphreys County Farmer Improves Soil Productivity on a River Bottom Farm

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 Our 42nd Profiles of Soil Health Heroes is Claude Callicott of Humphreys County. The farming operation is on the Duck River near where Humphreys, Hickman, and Perry Counties come together. I had the privilege to visit Claude and the farming operation with Wayne Coates, NRCS District Conservationist for Humphreys and Houston Counties. We visited the farm on April 24, 2018. Wayne and his family were honored as the 2016 Humphreys County's Conservation Farmer of the Year. 

IMG 3868newClaude grew up farming with his father, Clint Callicott and his brother, Clayton Callicott. In fact, Claude credits his dad for his desire to farm and to improve soil health. He is a third-generation farmer from Williamson County. They farmed 700 acres in Williamson County. Inheritance tax caused the farming operation to move to Humphreys County. Claude shared that they leased out their farm in 1996-IMG 3891new2000. Claude's dad was the County Executive for Williamson County, and Claude was in college at Maryville College. He majored in Mathematics and began teaching and coached football. His experiences as a child farming and his desire to farm were the forces that caused him to select farming as a full-time occupation. He told his dad; "I have to get back on the combine." His dad responded; "get back in there and learn it." Claude wanted to farm on his own. His dad wisely led Claude to form a partnership with him. He said "you need someone to share the stress." Claude reflects that his dad's advice was true. They began in 2002 and farmed together until his dad passed away in 2015.

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Alfred Farris

Improving Soil Health with Organic Crop Production and Grazing Livestock

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Alfred Farris from Orlinda, Tennessee, Robertson County is our 40th Profile of Soil Health Heroes. I had the privilege to visit Alfred's farm along with Nathan Hicklin, NRCS, Springfield, Tennessee on December 18, 2017. Alfred and his lovely wife, Carney, began farming in the 1960s. Alfred shared that his family had been in the lumber business. They owned some land west of Nashville in Kingston Springs. Alfred and Carney began farming in a conventional method with cattle and corn. The Farris family are devoted Christians. Alfred said that they were practicing community Christian living with approximately 250 people who worked and lived on the farm over the years in the 1970s. There was a question asked that changed their farming strategy. The question went something like this "if  the land belongs to God,and we are His stewards, why are we using toxic chemicals on His land?" Also, there was a young student living on the farm who was sent to the University of Missouri for an agriculture degree, where Dr. William Albrecht was considered one of the pioneers of modern organic movement. Alfred also visited the RodaleIMG 3350new IMG 3381newInstitute and totally changed his mindset. He wanted to adopt principles that build the soil and cut out chemicals. Compost and cover crops along with livestock were his strategies

Alfred and Carnie moved to Uganda in 1980 and spent many years doing mission work and working with displaced refugees. In 1986, they returned from Uganda. They sold the home farm and bought their current farm in Orlinda, Tennessee around 1986. When they bought the farm, they wanted to lease it out to a person that would farm it organically. The Farris family was still traveling back and forth to Uganda as they were transitioning the farm. They began growing cover crops, planted rye prior to soybeans. To bring back life in the soil, they began making compost.

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John Moore

Dairy Farmer Changing Sloping Land Soil Health with No-till and Cover Crops

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Life many times will cycle. This is the case on this particular profile. I began my career in August of 1977 with USDA, Soil Conservation Service in Bradley County. One of the farms that I worked on in 1977 was John Moore. John was a Soil Conservation District Board Member in 1977 and had been on the board since 1968. John is our 41st Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. John is an active Bradley County Soil Conservation District (SCD) Board Member and currently serving as Chairman of the Board. John also has served as Tennessee Association Conservation Districts' (TACD) East Tennessee Divisional Vice President. It was my pleasure to visit John's farm on February 6, 2018 along with Chase IMG 3421Hicks, NRCS District Conservationist, Cleveland, Tennessee.

1I ask John to share his family's history of farming. John shared that he is a 6th generation farmer on the current farm. The current farm has been in the family since 1850. John's great, great, great grandfather is buried on the farm as well as two of his two sons. The farm is at Rattle Snake Springs in Bradley County. This is also the beginning of the Trail of Tears. Forty-one acres of the Moore Farm is recognized as a Historic Site. John also said there is speculation of burial grounds of Native Americans on the farm, but are not marked.

I asked John to share how he started farming. John shared that his father was sick, and he began milking or assisting milking as a pre-teenager. His father died when John was fifteen. He took over the farm along with one farm hand. He said that mornings started early at 5:00 am. John would milk and go to school. A year later he would take cattle to sale barn after school and then go home and milk. Adulthood was thrust on him as a teenager.

John and his son currently milks 120 Holstein cows. He has a 65 cow-calf operation. Besides producing corn-silage behind cover crops, he plants wheat in orchard grass for hay. He also plants some wheat-Marshall rye grass for pasture. His current cropland is broken down as follows: 90 acres in corn silage, 215 acres of total acres in corn, and 55 acres in soybeans.

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Andrzej Kasilowski

Farmer Changing his Farm by Grazing Management on the Cumberland River

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Andrzej Kasilaowski works for NRCS in Jackson and Clay Counties as a Soil Conservation Technician. He also farms in Clay County in the Moss community. He is our 39th Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Andrzej is a second-generation farmer. His family bought the original 50 acres of his current farm in 1983. In 1989, they purchased 120 additional acres. Recently, IMG 3216newhe inherited 240 more acres which he began managing in April of 2017. I had the privilege to visit the farm with Andrzej and Jeff Young, NRCS District Conservationist, Jackson and IMG 3217newClay Counties on November 2, 2017.

Andrzej shared with me that the 120 acres had been cropped for about 40 years prior to them buying the farms. About 66 acres out of the 120 acres were enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), in year three of the contract when purchased. he described the farm as degraded when they began to manage it. He went on to explain the management during the CRP contract, which consisted of one bush hogging annually. Besides the previously discussed management that they inherited, Andrzej said working for the District and NRCS for 10 years and observing stream bank erosion on his farm due to cattle grazing, motivated him to change to his current management to one of increasing production by improving soil health.

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