Seeing the Positive Effects from Cover Crops in Dyer, County
Jesse and Danny Castleman farm in Dyer County and reside in Newbern, Tennessee. They farm predominantly hill-lands in the Newbern area. Their soils are mostly Grenada and Loring Silt Loam. Since these soils have fragipans, they tend to be wet when rainfall is plentiful and drought prone when dry. Jesse took over the farming operation from his dad, approximately two years ago. Jesse is our 33rd Profile of Soil Health Heroes. I visited the farming operation on June 7, 2017 along with Adam Willis, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Dyersburg, Josh Richardson, District Conservationist, NRCS for Obion and Lake Counties, Ryan Blackwood, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Dyersburg, Danny Castleman, Josh Phillips, NRCS District Conservationist, Dyersburg, Jesse Castleman, and Landowner, R.C. Owens.
Jesse produces grain crops with a corn and soybean rotation. He and his father began cover crops in 2014, predominantly for erosion control. Most of their fields are 2-5% slopes. The soils are from loess (wind-blown silt). They are highly erosive when left bare and tilled. Jesse and Danny learned a few years ago that no-till was the method to farm due to erosion potential on their soils. As earlier noted, the soils are drought prone when conditions are dry, so additions of SOM are essential for these soils to remain productive. Growing cover crops have added much more active soil organic matter or carbon to their soils. Historically, we have lost over 50% of our soil organic matter (SOM) or carbon. Carbon (C) makes up approximately 58% of SOM; and therefore, the terms will be used interchangeable. Keeping a plant growing is the best way to build or increase SOM. Green plants produce sugars or carbon as a result of photosynthesis. Farmers miss opportunities when they only grow one crop per year for 110 days or less. However, cover crops not only add diversity to a corn and soybean rotation, but also provide more efficiency of intercepting energy flow from the sun. Jesse is doing this by planting multi species cover crops annually. Also, multi species cover crops mimic nature with many species growing during the season instead of just a monoculture crop. The sheer amount of biomass grown in the cash crops and cover crops add significant carbon to the system which in turns feeds the soil biology in terms of quantity and quality due to the diversity. The soil biology provides better soil aggregation and nutrient cycling; thus, the soil health improves.