Marty Hinson is the fifteenth in our series of Tennessee Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Marty was one of two Soil Health speakers from Tennessee featured at the 2015 TACD convention in Jackson, Tennessee. Marty presented alongside with the Convention's keynote speaker, Dave Brandt, from Ohio, and fellow West Tennessean, Matt Griggs. Marty attended a tour of nationally renowned Dave Brandt with some of us last August. At the tour, she added to the discussion by sharing her experiences. She is a leader in soil health among farmers in West Tennessee.
I first met Marty when presenting at a round table discussion at the Madison County NRCS Field office in December of 2014. Marty along with other farmers from Madison, Gibson, and Chester Counties meet and discuss ways of improving soil health. They share successes and failures. District Conservationists Brad Denton, Madison County and Chester County and Matthew Denton, Gibson County have been very instrumental in leading this discussion and helpful in Marty's transition to embrace a cover crop and no-till system.
Marty is a farmer and Agricultural professional. She is the Farm Services Manager at Cannon Packaging, Humboldt, Tennessee. Marty promotes nutrient management and soil health in her position with Cannon. She farms with her husband, Barry Hinson and her son, Sam Green. They farm near Trenton, Tennessee in Gibson County in the Brazil community (unincorporated). Their operation is approximately 4,300 acres consisting of grain and fiber row crops. They produce corn, cotton, soybeans, grain sorghum (milo), and wheat.
Marty's job with Cannon involves nutrient management through soil testing and applying soil and foliar applied nutrients, and especially foliar application of micro nutrients at the right time of growth. In her , she noticed the soil was hard, compacted, and crusted at the surface after years of applying high-salt fertilizers. There were no signs of soil life, and yields were decreasing. Also recently, potassium fertilizer increased from $196.00/ton to $450.00/ton. Marty knew that their operation needed to reduce input costs and improve soil health in order to keep the farm productive and profitable.
Her objectives were (1) increase nutrients from cover crops (cover crops up-taking nutrients deep from the soil profile); (2) increase soil organic matter (SOM); (3) loosen the soil for better root growth and easier establishment of crops; and (4) desire more efficient and effective ways to feed the crop, such as with legumes, decomposing covers, decomposing SOM, etc. Previously, the farm operation planted wheat for cover from the 1990s until the 2004 crop season. In 2013, Marty saw the need to add cover crops back into the operation but with multi-species cover crops.
Marty worked with NRCS to obtain technical and financial assistance to initiate her cover crop and no-till system. She enrolled in both the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). She has applied 9 enhancements under the CSP, focusing on nutrient management, cover crops, and soil health.
The farm operation uses zone sampling for soil testing. They used several labs in the past and compare results in order to find the best rate based on soil test results. Currently they are using Kinsey Agricultural Services, Inc. from Missouri. They split-apply their nitrogen (N) applications. They apply phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) according to soil test results. Marty also applies foliar fertilizer on all crops along with sugar, fulvic acid, and the nutrients. They also tissue sample covers and apply any needed fertilizer. Marty's operation also targets 6.3 as their pH goal to reach and maintain. They apply Calcium-lime (Ca), chicken litter and Potassium-Magnesium (Mg) Sulfate to balance Ca, Mg, and K. They annually soil test and annually tissue sample. Marty targets 68 percent Ca base saturation. She is concerned about over fertilization of N and K due to effects of high salts.
I asked her about their tillage practices. They currently are approximately 90 percent continuous no-till. She sees cover crops as essential to no-till. As I discussed with her the benefits of the system approach, no-till preserves the benefits of crop rotations and cover crops. The plant is what provides us with soil carbon (C) from photosynthesis. Marty's thinking process is correct, as they pick up new farms, they plant covers prior to going to no-till. Their goal is to keep something growing 365 days. The continuous plant growth captures more energy flow and also promotes better soil biology with continuous root growth.
Three years ago, the Hinson operation began using multi-species cover crops, 2016 being the fourth year using cover crops. Fields may differ with a species or two. I was on the farm with Marty on January 12, 2016. We were visiting what is called the Wallace Brown Field. The field has had three years of covers. Crop history is prevented planting, 2015; Milo, 2014; soybeans, 2013, and cotton, 2012. The field was planted in cover crops by spinner truck on September 7, 2015. Pictures in the gallery below, highlight many fields of the operation, some taken November 2015 and others taken January 12, 2016. The multiple species were cereal rye seeded at 30 lbs, wheat at 40 lbs, rape at 4 lbs, purple top turnips at 1 lb, buckwheat at 10 lbs, crimson clover at 6 lbs, Daikon radishes at 2 lbs, and Austrian winter peas at 7 lbs, all species are lbs per acre.
Other fields were planted similar with the difference being Balansa clover instead of Austrian winter pea. Fields vary in dates due to crop type and harvest dates. Generally they planted early, September 7 following corn, milo, and early beans (type 4.01). On later beans (type 5.5) and cotton, planting dates varied from September 24 to October 1. Most fields were broadcast using spinner truck using diammonium phosphate (DAP) and potassium as a carrier. Other late seeded fields were flown on by airplane.
Generally, the brassicas planted earlier are larger and more dominant in the stand. Grass seems to be more dominant on later planting dates. Clovers, legumes, and brassicas are evident but smaller in size due to later planting dates. Currently, the farm operation has 1,823 acres in multiple species cover crops ranging from 5-9 species per field. Also, 250 acres are in wheat for cover or crop depending on the growth of the wheat in the spring. They planned for 400 acres of wheat but due to weather, planted 250 acres.
After three years of covers with diverse crop rotations and continuous no-till, the farm operation has reduced many of the broad leaf residual weed control and reduced all of dry fertilizer on soybeans. Marty says those savings amount to $57.00/acre. Marty still tissue samples soybeans and applies foliar fertilizer. She also reduced 30 units of K per acre at 0.38 per unit which amounts to $11.40 per acre. The soil is much looser. I dug several holes on January 12, 2016 and found granular structure with little platy structure. Every shovel full had over 5 earthworms in the middle of January at 46 degrees Fahrenheit. The operation also ceased in spraying fungicides on all crops with the exception of 50 % of the acres of soybeans. This amounts to approximately $15.00 per acre. She also reduced nitrogen applications in cotton. She began with split applied N at 50 lbs per acre at planting and 50 lbs after emergence. She reduced to 50 and 40, and now to 40 and 40 lbs per acre. This reduces the total amounts of salts applied to the soil. It also reduces total nitrogen applied. Nitrogen from the soil and legumes are available more as plant needs it with less risk of losses due to slow released from covers. SOM levels range from 1.4 - 2.3%. Marty thinks that SOM will increase in the future. She said many of the fields suffered from surface compaction prior to adding cover crops.
Most of the fields in the farming operation were infested with pigweed. Since using cereal rye and rape in the mixture, pigweed is controlled. Cereal rye controls weeds through smothering and through allelopathy, a natural herbicide. Allelopathy lasts for about a month after rye is terminated. Rape as a cover crop acts as a natural fumigant. It reduces bacteria and fungi along with weed suppression. Pest suppression is believed to be the result of glucosinolate degradation into biologically active sulfur containing compounds called thiocyanates. Recent Findings, Farmers have had problems desiccating canola and Rape. Currently, Tennessee is not recommending canola or rape in cover crop mixes.
The positive result of multi-species is diversity in the soil resulting in diverse soil organisms. Diversity results in healthy soils being less susceptible to diseases. In addition, the diverse root types, fibrous roots from grasses add carbon, tap roots from legumes and brassicas break compacted layers, and deeper tap roots from brassicas such as radishes to break deeper compacted zones and uptake nutrients. Legumes by fixing N will counter the grasses from tying up too much nitrogen. Grasses and legumes host the fungi mycorrrhiza. Fungi mycorrhiza aids plants by reaching and up taking moisture and phosphorus that may be tightly held by soil miccroaggregates.
Marty and her family have seen many economic benefits plus soil improvements with the three seasons of multi-species cover crops. The farm operation's yields have increased despite less inputs. She hopes to see continuous increases in SOM. Marty's position with Cannon is assisting many farmers in West Tennessee to make similar changes. Her farming operation and her professional career is making a big change in soil health in Gibson County and West Tennessee.