Soil Health Heroes

Phillip Jenkins

IMG 0904This is the ninth in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. This profile is a unique one; it is on no-till and strip tillage tobacco. Our featured farmer for this profile is Phillip Jenkins; Phillip farms in partnership with his brother. His brother produces the grain crops, corn, wheat, and soybeans, and Phillip's operates the tobacco enterprise. The farm is near Springfield, Tennessee in Robertson County.  Phillip farms level to gentle rolling slopes 0-4%. The soils are Pembroke Silt Loam, Pickwick Silt Loam, and Staser Silt Loam. Phillip received technical and financial assistance on cover crops from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). He is pictured with Chase Coakley and Nathan Hicklin, NRCS, Robertson County, Tennessee.

Phillip produces 50 acres of Dark Fired tobacco and 10 acres of Burley tobacco. I visited the farm on September 9, 2015. Many of the barns in the area had the familiar smoke and aroma coming from the roof tops.IMG 0920 Phillip uses UAN 32% nitrogen and knifes in at 6" from row at 3" depth. Most of his fields are at 6.4 - 6.7 pH. Working with his brother, the typical rotation is corn, wheat, soybeans, and 2 years of tobacco. In similar crop rotations including tobacco, soil organic matter (SOM) would be sustained or increased during grain crops in no-till, and reduced during tobacco years due to the amount of tillage and low residue associated with tobacco production. Phillip wants to reverse that trend and use the tobacco years as soil building.

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Grant and Don Norwood

Grant and Don Norwood are the eighth in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Grant is 37 years old and is in partnership with his father Don. 

IMG 0873newGrant is a fifth generation farmer. His great-great grandfather came to the area from North Carolina. The family farm-operation was recognized as a Century Farm in 2014. They farm in the Pleasant Hill area of Mansfield in Henry County, Tennessee. Their predominant soils are deep loess soils, Felliciano Silt loam (formerly mapped as Memphis silt loam) and Loring Silt Loam. The predominant slopes range from 2-8%. These loess soils are highly susceptible to erosion when left bare. Like many West Tennessee farmers, the Norwoods traditionally applied conservation practices that would control concentrated flow-induced erosion with grade stabilization structures and water and sediment controlled structures.

The Norwood farming operation consists of 3,200 acres. Their typical crop rotation is corn, wheat, and soybeans. They use genetic modified organisms (GMO) technology to reduce herbicide and insecticides. Don said that they grid sample in 2.5 acres grids. They practice variable rate fertilizing and liming. They maintain their pH at 6.2 or higher, and soil sample every other year. Don says they are maintaining their structural conservation practices. He says that the structural practices complement the continuous no-till, and recently added cover crops. Of their 3,200 acres, 600 have center pivot irrigation. Both corn and beans are irrigated. They apply UAN solution of 32-0-0 as their nitrogen at 180 units per acre on corn. It is knifed in 6" off row at 3" depth. 

Don began no-tilling in 1972. Grant told me that he can barely remember working ground, and that was in 1978. The farm has been in conservation tillage for nearly four decades, and continuous no-till for approximately ten years. They currently use row-cleaners, but use no down pressure. 

Grant began an interest in soil health over ten years ago. It started with attending a soil conference featuring nationally known soil health advocates Gabe Brown from North Dakota, and Dave Brandt from Ohio. The conference whet his appetite to study soil health articles. Grant proceeded to incorporate cover crops into his conservation farming system.

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Soil Health Heroes - Tim and Tommy Colbert

Tim and Tommy Colbert with Brad Denton, District Conservationist, NRCS
Tim and Tommy Colbert with Brad Denton, NRCS


This is the sixth in a series of “Profiles of Soil Health Heroes.” This profile features Tim and Tommy Colbert, Chester County, Tennessee. The brothers began farming in 1973. The farming operation is located near the Jack’s Creek and Plainview Communities of Chester County. Their soils are of the Lexington-Providence soil series made up of loess cap over Coastal Plain parent material. Soils are predominantly silt loams with some bottom lands somewhat sandier in texture.

What stands out about the Colbert brothers the minute you get out of the truck, is their can-do attitude. They shared with me and Brad Denton, NRCS District Conservationist, Madison and Chester Counties, the history of their farming and conservation practices. They constructed terraces in the 1970s and 1980s. The entire farm at their headquarters is terraced. It was laid out on the contour. They told me after the terraces were constructed that they reduced the gully and rill erosion and followed the contour for many years.

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Soil Health Heroes - Andy Cooper

Pam Hoskins and Andy Cooper standing in recently seeded BarOptima fescue.
Pam Hoskins, NRCS and Andy Cooper standing in a BarOptima fescue field. The fescue is more palatable than Kentucky-31 fescue.

Andy Cooper is the seventh in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Andy Cooper is unique in that he operates grass-base full-time dairy. That is the cows meet most of their daily needs by grazing instead of intensive feeding of silage and hay. The Cooper Dairy is in Cannon County, near Morrison, Tennessee. Andy is the son of Mr. Ray Cooper (No-Hay Ray).

I believe it is essential to share the history of Mr. Ray in order to appreciate the evolution of rotational grazing to the present day dairy farm. The farm was recognized as a Century Farm in 2002. Although Mr. Ray's father milked cows, Mr. Ray never operated a dairy. The farm was operated as a cash-grain farm in the 1960s along with about 40 beef cows. Mr. Ray was one of the early adopters of no-till, late 1960s. In the 1980s, he transitioned to beef cattle enterprise. He sowed most fields to permanent pasture and hay with some wheat. Like most beef-cattle farmers, he fenced his fields and bought hay harvesting equipment, including disk mower, tedder, and round baler. The farm was predominantly in wheat, Kentucky-31 fescue, and orchard grass. He produced 400 - 600 round bales of hay per year. The farm is approximately 300 acres with 264 acres of grass (pre-dairy). He managed about 120-cow herd.

Mr. Ray constantly evaluated his operation and was noticing that major input costs were in hay production and harvesting. Mr. Cooper is known to try new things and open to change. He once said change comes upon us, and we as humans are resistant to change. Ray believed that we need not be afraid of change. With that attitude, he took a 25-gallon portable tank, some poly wire and couplers and began seeing what he could do on 5-10 acres. This is a lesson on any changing management practice, start off small, and master it before expanding. Mr. Ray kept looking at decreasing profits from higher input costs from hay. He was always reading and looking for new ideas. He came upon Jim Garrish, former Director of University of Missouri Forage Research Center. With his research and better technology in electrical fencing, he kept increasing his acres in rotational grazing.

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Soil Health Heroes - Mike and Susan Clark

Moving Livestock Daily, Key to Improving Soil Health

Mike and Susan ClarkThis is the fifth in the series of "Profiles of Soil Health Heroes." This profile is on Mike and Susan Clark, Mascot, Tennessee. The farm is located near the Holston River off of Mascot Road, East of Knoxville, Tennessee. The farm is named “Green Acres” for obvious reasons; the grass is so green and managed so well to produce forages for over 70,000 plus pounds of beef at a given time. The farm has approximately 210 acres, and approximately 90 acres are in pastures.

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