Soil Health Heroes

Ricky Essary

Cover Crops Provide Diversity and Residue to Improve Soil Health


IMG 1937newRicky 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.IMG 1836new

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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Harris Brothers

IMG 1369newYoung Farming Brothers Improving their Soil and Profits using Latest Technology and Cover Crops


The Harris Brothers from Chester County are our 21st in the series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Rusty and Jeff Harris are twins and farming partners. They are fifth generation farmers. Their farm headquarters are located at Wayne Harris Road, named after their grandfather. They live in Henderson, Tennessee. Rusty is Chairman of the Chester County Soil Conservation District Board. I had the privilege to visit them on June 2, 2016 along with Brad Denton, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist for Madison and Chester Counties. I also had the privilage to work with Levi Harris, Jeff's son. On earlier visit in March of 2016, I met Hannah, Rusty's daughter. The future farming generation is in good hands with children like Hanna and Levi getting this great exposure of farming to improve soil health.IMG 1832new 

IMG 1757newRusty and Jeff grew up farming with their dad. Rusty began farming approximately eleven years ago. He was working off farm, when their dad became deathly ill. After their dad died, Rusty began farming full time. He began acquiring bottom land fields with slopes no greater than 4 percent, with the exception of one farm that have some significant slopes. All soils are loess or alluvial soils. The fields are very productive but highly erosive. On the other hand, Jeff started farming full time about four years ago. Out of necessity due to prime farm lands already leased out, he acquired steeper ground, mostly coming out of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Many farmers want to till up CRP lands. Jeff wanted to preserve the soil organic matter that built up during CRP. Landowners saw this advantage of keeping their fields productive and leased their lands to Jeff. Rusty and Jeff have shown a remarkable stewardship. Landowners have been content to keep them in leases. In both cases, the brothers acquired farms that have been managed well for conservation. These soils respond well to their continued soil health improving management.

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Keith Farms

From Former Mined Land to Productive Soils

IMG 1637newOn April 26, 2016, I visited Keith Farms with Jeff Bowie, District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Maury County, Tennessee. Keith farm is located in Pottsville, Tennessee in Maury County. Keith Farms consist of Father, Ritchie and his son, Chad.  The Keiths are our nineteenth of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes.

A portion of the farm is formerly mined phosphate land. The location of the farm is on the Duck River. The farm was cleared of trees and shaped andIMG 1642new disked to smooth a few years ago. This is the third year in production. The rest of the farming operation has been no-tilled for seven years. Recent rotation on the mined field has been one year of soybeans and this is the third year of corn. Approximately 335 acres are in center pivot irrigation. Just to make a point how effective Keith Farms are in keeping the soil covered, I have a picture below in the photo gallery of conventional tillage from a farm less than two miles from their farm.

Their crop rotation for the entire operation is corn, wheat or cereal rye, and soybeans. They crop approximately 3,600 acres. Four hundred of those acres are in cereal rye for grain, and 1,000 acres are in wheat for grain. ParsonsBend4new

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Neil Delk

From Farming Dust to Improving Soil Health

IMG 1665newNeil Delk is a Soil Conservation District Supervisor for the Maury County Soil Conservation District. Neil is 20th in our series of State Profiles of Soil Health. He is from Maury County and farms in Kettle Mills area near Williamsport, Tennessee. Neil grew up farming, but took a break from farming during the time he was drafted into the United States Air force in 1969. He worked some time with the Department of Revenue part-time, and then returned to farming. He supplemented his farming by select timber cutting for 20 years. He retired from timber cutting approximately 8 years ago. In his farm operation he formerly raised cattle and hogs. He grew corn for hogs. Neil transitioned over the years to full-time grain crops.

He shared with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), District Conservationist, Jeff Bowie and myself that they previously "scarred the land." He went on to say, that "we worked the ground like we thought we had to do. We worked it like dust." Neil also said that "we have not tilled in 20 years. It hurts me to IMG 1667newtill."

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Jamie and Ray Weaver

Adding Nine Species of Cover Crop Mixture to Improve Soil Health

IMG 1558newThe eighteenth in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes is Jamie and Ray Weaver from Coffee County. Ray Weaver has been farming since 1971. Ray has been president of Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD) for the last five years. Ray is a leader in the state for conservation of natural resources. Ray is also Chairman of the Coffee County Soil Conservation Board of Supervisors. Jamie, his son, has been farming with Ray since 2002. Jamie has his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science and a minor in in Agricultural Economics, both from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

I visited with Jamie along with the Natural Resources Conservation Serve (NRCS) staff of Coffee County, Adam Daugherty and Allen Willmore on April 4, 2016. The Weaver farm is quite diverse. They farm approximately 8 acres in grapes, 600 acres in row crops, 125 brood cows, and direct sale on beef, retail pork, 200 finishing pigs, direct sale, 20 acres sweet corn, and less than one acre in pumpkins. They plan to build a high tunnel and produce strawberries in the near future.IMG 1555new

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