No-till Tobacco with Cover Crops improve Soil Health and Increase Farmer's Profits
Tobacco is not normally thought of as a crop that improves soil health. By the time George Washington returned to Mount Vernon in the 1780s, tobacco was a predominant cash crop in the colonies and had been since 1611. Like his father before him, Washington grew tobacco. He noticed the land had lost its fertility. George Washinton replaced tobacco with wheat and began a crop rotation system to bring life back into the soil. Many years after, we are still trying crop rotations that will improve our soil health. Traditionally, tobacco is plowed and followed by at least two other secondary tillage methods to smooth the field prior to transplanting. Even though tobacco is normally rotated, a typical tobacco field can suffer from soil erosion during the years in tobacco. When you examine a traditionally plowed tobacco field, one normally does not see many soil health indicators improving.
That what makes this Profile of Soil Health Hero unique. Corby Brown grows no-till tobacco and is improving soil health. Corby is our 24th Profile of Soil Health Hero. He farms in Macon and Clay Counties, Tennessee, as well in Monroe, Barren, and Metcalf Counties, Kentucky. Corby grows personally approximately 250 acres of Burly tobacco. He works with his son, Christopher, and nephew, Elliot. Their combined acres total approximately 1,000 acres of Burly tobacco. There are also others in his family involved. Corby is the specialist for setting tobacco where Christopher focuses on fertility, and Elliot on weed management. They all have their personal farms but work together as far as advising and assisting one another. Corby also grows corn, soybeans, and some cereal rye. He also grows some sweet potatoes. His tobacco is planted in 40" rows. Corn and soybeans are planted on 20" rows. He annually soil tests. He maintains a pH of approximately 6.2 or greater. His yields in the last three years have been approximately 70 bushels of soybeans, 210 bushels of corn per acre, and 1600 - 2100 pounds of tobacco per acre.
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Cover Crops Provide Diversity and Residue to Improve Soil Health
Ricky Essary is the 22nd in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes in Tennessee. Ricky farms with his son and son-in-law. The partnership is called Essary and Cherry Farms. Ricky is the chairman of the Hardin County Soil Conservation District. He resides in Milledgeville, Tennessee. Milledeville is unique in that it sits in three counties, McNairy, Chester, and Hardin. Ricky said that he farms in four counties, the three previously mentioned ones with the addition of Henderson County. He said that he farms the four counties all within 4 miles of his home.
It did not take me long to see one of Ricky's passions. It is tractor pulling. He has been competing in open class for over 40 years. He says he began driving then his daughter, and son. He said his daughter had the best feel, and was the best. Their tractor was very impressive. His passion is also evident in his conservation ethic. He believes in improving soil health.
Walter Rickman was his grandfather on his mother's side. He moved into the area and cleared the land with a drag line and dynamite. Mr. Rickman eventually owned 1,000 acres. Ricky tells me that Mr. Rickman owned 4 grocery stores. The children went into the grocery business and were not interested into farming. Ricky's father began farming with Mr. Rickman. After Mr. Rickman's passing, the land went to the children, where Ricky has bought most of it from uncles and aunts.
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