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 leads 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 State 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.
Read more: Karl and Alex Forsbach
Persistence and Consistency of No-till and Cover Crops Change Soil Health
Jason 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 his 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.
Read more: Jason Birdsong