Soil Health Heroes

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 Carney 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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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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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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Adam Joyner

Farmer Began Farming by No-tilling and Planting Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health

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 IMG 3037newAdam Joyner is our 36th Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Adam is a full-time farmer operating in Gibson County, Tennessee. His farming operation is made up of eight different farms withIMG 3132new a total acreage of approximately 700 acres. He said that all acres except 80 acres are either in winter cover crops (420 acres) or winter wheat (200 acres). Adam has his degree in Wildlife Management and began farming in 2012. He started farming by taking over a field that had been previously vertical tilled in 2012. His cover crop experience began in 2013, growing both turnips and/or radishes. The brassicas winter-killed, and Adam planted no-till into the cover. Adam never tilled or has not had cover crops in his management other than the field he took over for in 2012. Adam's farming operation consists of corn-wheat and soybean rotation. He farms predominantly Memphis Silt Loam, Providence Silt Loam, and Loring Silt Loam soil types. His slopes are gently sloping to sloping with slopes ranging 2 - 6%. These soils are from loess parent material and are highly erosive. His corn is planted on 30" row spacing while his soybeans are on 15" row spacing. Wheat is drilled. He uses a fluted coulter with a floating roll cleaner, double disk opener on his Kinze planter, and one rubber closing wheel and one spike closing wheel. Adam is considering dropping the spike closing wheel in 2018 and operate with two rubber closing wheels. He said the spike closing wheel had wrapping issues with the cover crop residue.  

Adam takes intensive soil test samples on 2.5 acres grids. Samples are pulled on three-year intervals. Adam applies phosphate (P), Potash (K), and lime according to soil test and by variable rate. He previously was applying 70 units of nitrogen (N) in the form of Urea at planting for corn with a second application of 120 units (granular). Since going to cover crops, he has increased to 90-100 units of N at planting to compensate for the increased carbon from the cover crops. The second N application is side dressed at approximately the V-5 growth stage, with 60-70 units of N. He sees the need to improve N-efficiency and plans to purchase a knife applicator for side dressing of N in the future.

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