Soil Health Heroes

Charles and Lynn Blankenship

Proper Stocking and Pasture Recovery are the Keys to Improve Health on a Grazing Farm

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Our 32nd Profiles of Soil Health Heroes are Charles and Lyn Blankenship. Charles and Lynn farm and live in Altamont, Tennessee. They produced Polled Herefords from the 1970s and 1980s and retired in 2013. They lived in McEwein, Tennessee. The Blankenships moved to Altamont approximately four years ago and purchased this farm. The farm size is approximately 230 acres, and 100 acres in pasture. Charles stated that the property's abundant caves and streams gave the property a feel of a natural park. It is great for hiking and just getting out and enjoying the beauty of the landscape. The soils are from sandstone, and are shallow to sandstone. The slopes range from 4-15%. Charles said their most limiting factor wasIMG 2524new adequate rainfall.

I asked Charles what made him interested in grazing ecology or the management that he now practices. He said that he is an avid reader. He reads "Stockman Grass Farmer" and other books on intensive grazing. He studied several statistics on intensive grazing versus continuous grazing. The reading encouraged him begin intensive grazing. He contacted Dewitt Simerly, NRCS District Conservationist for Grundy County. He also received guidance from Gregg Brann, NRCS State Grazing Specialist, and Soil Health Specialist for Tennessee. Charles also mentioned seeing a demonstration of a rainfall simulator. The results of seeing good infiltration on well managed intensive grazing with proper rest compared to more run-off from over grazed continuously grazed pasture opened his eyes. They began comparing notes with another Profiles of Soil Health Hero, Jim Malooley. See Soil Health Hero number 14. Off he began on high stocking in small paddocks over short duration.

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Karl and Alex Forsbach

Farmers in Hardin County Are Making a Difference on Soils that Are Prone to Flood


Karl and Alex Forsbach farm in Hardin County. They are our 31st Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. They farm below Pickwick Dam near Savannah, Tennessee. The lands are unique in that they may flood from time to time when the Tennessee Valley Authority must flood the terrace soils due to excess rain. Talking to farmers in the area, there are resistances to no-till and use cover crops due to the threat of seasonal floods that will move crop residue in large piles. Flood threats also can drown out cover crops or crops too for that matter. I first visited the Forsbachs and discussed their unique situation in April of 2015. I met Alex my first month as the Soil Specialist for Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD) at the Milan No-till Field Day, July of 2014. We discussed soil properties that factored into the rainfall simulator showing good infiltration and less erosion. We discussed cover crops and no-till. He invited Mark Roberts, NRCS District Conservationist, Savannah, Tennessee and me to their farm.. We finally were able to meet with him and his father, Karl in April of 2015. They had been using some vertical tillage to anchor the residue hoping to slow the movement of residue when flooding occurs. I discussed the effects of any tillage. Tillage destroys aggregates regardless of depth and leaves a restrictive zone or tillage pan that restricts infiltration. Live roots and soil biology aggregates the soil which leaves voids in the soil that IMG 2501newleads to a granular or sub-angular blocky soil structure. This structure is like marbles in a glass. They fill up the space in the glass, but there are voids or space for air, water, and roots to freely move. That what roots and soil biology do for the soil. Tillage will destroy aggregates and consolidate the soil causing soil crusts and limited infiltration.

We discussed them going to permanent cover crops with their crop rotation on our visit in 2015. I had the privilege of revisiting them with Mark Roberts and David McMillen, NRCS StateIMG 2499new Soil Scientist, Tennessee on March 9, 2017. The day we visited the farm, we were blessed with 72 degrees of early Spring-like temperatures. Karl Forsbach grew up in Germany. He moved to the United States and bought farmland in Hardin County. Alex, his son, attended Mississippi State where he obtained a degree in Agriculture and a Master's in Business Administration. They farm together about 3,300 acres of corn, soybeans, milo (grain sorghum), and wheat. They irrigate approximately 900 acres with central pivot system. They plant corn and milo on 30" rows, and soybeans on 15 " rows. Wheat and cover crops are drilled.

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Jason Birdsong

Persistence and Consistency of No-till and Cover Crops Change Soil Health

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IMG 2312newJason Birdsong from Giles County, Tennessee is our 29th in the series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Jason is a fourth-generation farmer. He said that he has literally been farming his entire life. I had the privilege to visit Jason on January 12, 2017, along with NRCS District Conservationist, Rusty Walker, Pulaski, Tennessee. Jason farms corn, wheat, and soybeans. His farming operation is approximately 750 acres. His soils consist of Armour Silt Loam and bottom land soils, Lanton and Roellen. Lanton and Roellen are poorly drained soils.

He plants his soybeans in 19" rows, his corn on 30 " rows, and drills his wheat. He plants his soybeans at 140,000 plants per acre and hisIMG 2328new corn at 28,500 plants per acre. He works closely with the local NRCS, Giles County Soil Conservation District, and his local University of Tennessee Extension Service. He has conducted experiments with Extension Service on his farm. He is enthusiastic and determined to find this best method and wants to share his results with others. Some of his local findings are the following: soybeans yielded 3.5 bushels more per acre when following a 5-way mix compared to cereal rye alone. They split the field in half with same soil types and planted half in cereal rye and other half in a 5-way mix. In another experiment, Jason used an inoculant for soybeans on his bottom land soils, and showed consistently 3 bushels per acre increase compared to not using an inoculant. On his hill ground, he conducted the same experiment and showed only 1/2-bushel increase per acre using the inoculant. All work on his farm is unpublished.

Jason manages his nutrients and soil pH by grid sampling in 2 acre grids. He formerly applied nutrients based on general removal rates from grains. Now he applies only what is needed by grids and soil test analysis. He is currently applying nutrients using variable rates adjusted by the more detailed soil sampling. He said they have saved thousands of dollars by variable rate application. He has also added variable rate lime application to maintain his pH along the variable terrain of his farm. 

Jason said that his family began experimenting with no-till in the 1970s. With the challenges of getting a good stand, and lack of chemistry of herbicides to control weeds, they practiced rotational tillage. With better herbicides and better technology, he has been in continuous no-till since 2010. In 2010, he researched and read and heard other testimonies on soil health improvements by using cover crops with no-till. He had experienced in the past the hard soils using straight no-till and decided to always use some type of cover crop in his management system. 

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Jay Moser

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Incredible Soil Changes from Thirty Three-Years of No-till and Thirty years of Cover Crops

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As I begin writing this article, I cannot believe this is number 30 in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. This one is special because I met this farmer over 30 years ago, when I was a District Conservationist with what was then the USDA Soil Conservation Service (SCS) now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). I was District Conservationist in Jefferson County, Tennessee from 1981 to 1987. It is a pleasure after 30 years to visit and write about Jay Moser, our 30th Soil Health Hero. In the mid to late 1970s, I also IMG 2430newremembered nominating the Jay Moser Farm as Conservation Farmer of the Year when I was District Conservationist. It is easily to see why Jay was Conservation Farmer of the Year.

I made my initial visit with Jay on December 21, 2016. The day was a very cold 23 degrees during the visit. I made a follow up visit to take some photographs on February 13, 2017, 52 degrees. Jay has been in the liming business since 1978. Jay is owner of Mossy Creek Mining and markets his lime through Tennessee Valley Resources. Jay sells lime across the state of Tennessee as well to five other Southeastern States. Jay is owner and operator of his 2,000 acres farming operation in Jefferson County, Tennessee. Due to owning some mines, Jay as access to ground water in the mines, and has 3 central pivot irrigation system. He can extract water at 2500 gallons per minute easily applying 3/4" of water per hour.

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Bill Legg

Farmer Says Farmers Cannot Afford not to Build Their Soil Health


I am Mike Hubbs, Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts Soil Health Specialist. I have been visiting and talking to many farmers all across Tennessee that are practicing conservation practices that improve soil health. I call the series, Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Bill Legg is our 28th of the Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. He is from near Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. I had the privilege to visit Bill on January 11, 2017 along with Mike Tatum, District Conservationist, NRCS, Lawrenceburg, and Tucker Newton, Lawrence County Soil Conservation District Office Director. January 11 was a pleasant day for January. It had rained earlier and was cloudy but a mild 66 degrees. Bill's soils range from 4-6% sloping silt loam soils to bottom land soils with slopes 0-2%. 

IMG 2354newBill had grown up farming and had grown grain crops for many years and in his words, "just broke even." He changed his operation to grazing operation and some forestry. He did not grow annual crops for 15 years. He became interested in rotational grazing in 1996. He began to see the importance of Bio-Diversity. In 2009, he began to read more on the soil food web and soil biology. He also attended a session on the food web. This was part of a Missouri Grazing Field Day that featured soil health changes.

In 2011, he began farming crops again. He is farming on the halves with another farmer, who does the planting and harvesting for him. Bill supplies the land and seed. Bill began using cover crops in the fall of 2011. He wanted to incorporate his livestock enterprise with his crop fields. He now farms 140 acres for grain crops. Bill grows corn and soybeans in rotation and actively grazes his cover crops with his livestock. Bill drills soybeans and cover crops. He plants his corn in 30" rows. He said that his dad talked about growing cover crops back when his dad plowed with mules. They would plant cereal rye and vetch. As Bill researched soil health improving practices, he remembered his father's history with cover crops.

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