Soil Health Heroes

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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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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Robert Henley

Carbon Cycling, the key to High Productive Soils and Higher Profits

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Coffee County Soil Conservation District is very active in promoting, and are very successful in applying conservation practices to improve soil health. Adam Daugherty, Allen Willmore, the Soil Conservation District Board, and many farmers have come together in unison promoting soil health resulting in over 75 farmers actively practicing long-term no-till and the use of cover crops to regenerate their soils and change the overall soil health. They are mimicking nature with diversity and pumping carbon into the soil to ignite both quantity and quality IMG 3184newof soil biology resulting in breaking down freshly produce carbon and improving soil aggregation and nutrient cycling. One farm in particular has been a focus of many soil health meetings, soil health field days, and even the location for NRCS' soil health team to meet and develop our soil health strategy for the state. I know personally that I have been on this farm no less than six times. Robert Henley is agronomist at Security Seed and Chemical and landowner/manager of his farm of 70 acres in Hillsboro, Tennessee in Coffee County. Robert is our 38th Profiles of Soil Health Hero.

IMG 2672newRobert is well known in Coffee County in assisting farmers to reach their yield potential in corn and soybeans. Adam Daugherty, NRCS District Conservationist credits Robert and a few other farmers in the county to ask the right questions to motivate thinking and progressing in a carbon-driven agricultural system to transform soils to from somewhat dysfunctional to functional. I first met Robert in February of 2014 at a soil health meeting on his farm. We were touring one of his more productive fields that later in 2014 yielded 315 bushels of corn dryland production in a national corn yield growing contest. Robert, at the time, had some wheat and Austrian winter peas planted for cover crops. We learned from Adam and Robert that the high producing field had been in cattle production for 53 years. It was in predominantly fescue for over 53 years. Unlike many farms that are tilled converting grasses to crop land, Robert no-tilled into the fescue field, so it was never tilled in the last 60 years plus. Robert remarked the day that I interviewed him for this article on October 11, 2017, that the field was left in grass so long because it was thought to be unproductive for corn and 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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Bobby Ellison

Using Annual Sorghum-Sudangrass in Cool-Season Pastures to Improve Soil Health and Better Profit

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IMG 3161newBobby Ellison is a NRCS Soil Conservation Technician assigned to Union County Soil Conservation District Office and also the NRCS FieldIMG 3158newOffice in Tazewell, Tennessee. Bobby provides technical and financial assistance to farmers in Union and Claiborne Counties. Mike Shoffner is District Conservationist of Tazewell Field Office which also has jurisdiction over Union County. Bobby began his career as an intermittent employee in 1996. He became a county employee with a partnership with NRCS until 2000 where he then became a full-time employee with NRCS. Bobby said during my interview with him that he always had a passion for farming. His attractiveness to the land led him to a career in natural resource conservation as well as farming.

Bobby purchased his farm with his dad in the 1980s from Bobby's grandfather. Bobby is a fourth-generation farmer from Sharps Chapel area of Union County. He said that his goal in life 'is to make things better." Bobby farms 800 acres with 150 cows with approximately 138 calves and a few bulls. Bobby has a unique grazing operation and is our 37th Profile of Soil Heath Heroes. 

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