No-till, Use of Eight-Species Cover Crops, and Integrating Grazing of Cover Crops to improve Soil Health
Ray Jones, from Coffee County, is the seventeenth of our Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Ray said "I have been farming all of my life." I could see and feel the passion in his demeanor and voice. Ray is a second generation farmer. His operation is a mix between grain crops and livestock farming. His total operation is 1,000 acres. He crops approximately 700 acres. He has about 300 acres in pastures. His crop rotation is simple, corn followed by soybeans. Five years ago, he changed his operation by adding winter cover crops to his rotation.
Like many outstanding conservation farmers, stewardship came early in his farming career. His dad bought one of the first no-till planters in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They planted in fescue, no-till corn. They learned the art of no-tilling over time. There were challenges in those days with lack of chemistry in herbicides and the slowness of planting. In the late 1980s, they changed to continuous no-till. Ray stated the following reasons for changing: 1. Planters had improved. New planters allowed them to plant 8-9 times faster than the original planter. His original planter would only plant at 1-2 miles per hour. Their operation really committed to no-till once the planters improved. 2. They saw the need to change due to labor. They maintained their yields by learning the system. There were less costs to no-till. They saved fuel, labor, due to cutting out disking, chisel plowing, and field cultivating. 3. A third factor was improvement of herbicides and plant genetics. Ray said, you could not commit to no-till until you could get a good termination of the cover. 4. They began in the late 1980s and 1990s using cover crops in their rotations. They used ryegrass and crimson clover. Usually one fourth of their crop was in winter cover crops. After ParaquatTM changed to GramoxoneTMchemistry, they did not get a complete kill in winter covers. They quit using winter cover crops, and transitioned to straight no-till in annual crop residues. Their early cover crop work kept them from regressing in yields as they transitioned from conventional tillage to no-till. Ray said no-till was more eficient because tillage took forever to work up the fields to plant.
Read more: Ray Jones
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.
Read more: Marty Hinson