Soil Health Heroes

Sneed Brothers

IMG 1285newChanging is difficult for most of us. However, the world around us is changing every day. Farming is no different. In today's world, one changes or is left behind. Unfortunately, one may go out of business as a result. Sneed Brothers' farm is our thirteenth edition highlighting Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Sneed Brothers' Farm has grown over recent years to approximately 10,000 acres in their farming operation. I arrived December 9, 2015 a little after 7:00 am and was astonished by the bluster of activity. Many grain trucks leaving the farm, tractors and combines driving by all activity contributing to completing the 2015 crop harvest. This profile will highlight the recent changes that Sneed Brothers have made to improve their profit margin as well as improving the health of their soils. 

The Sneed Brothers are grain crop farmers. Their crop rotation system is predominately corn, wheat, and soybeans. This 2015 season was the first in several decades that cotton has not been grown. Ray Sneed stated that he joined the operation as a farmer in 1978, and has grown cotton every consecutive year until 2015. They will add cotton back into the rotation as economics will allow. They also grow 300-1,200 acres of milo (grain sorghum) per year, again as economics dictate.

Six years ago they changed their lime and fertilizer testing and application to variable rate. They are conducting a yield study on the effects of variable rate, especially for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). They will make adjustments according to yield findings.IMG 1274new

The Sneed Brothers farm in Shelby and Tipton Counties, Tennessee, as well as in Crittenden County, Arkansas. Their soils in Tipton and Shelby Counties are predominantly Memphis, Loring, and Granada Silt Loam on slopes ranging from 2 - 12 %. These soils have been formed by windblown loess and are easily erodible. Many of the fields are designated highly erodible and require a certain level of conservation to remain eligible for USDA programs. The Sneeds have been constructing structural conservation practices since the late 1980s. The predominant conservation practices are grade control structures, water and sediment control structures, and grass waterways. Their farm land in Crittenden County Arkansas is mostly alluvial soils on 0-1 % slopes.

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Harvey Young

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Harvey Young is the twelfth in the series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Harvey lives in Knox County, Tennessee. He is retired from AT&T. Harvey was in the market for a cattle farm in Jefferson County for twenty years. His dream became reality in 1999 when he purchased a farm in New Market, Tennessee. The farm's soils are predominately Dewey and Decatur silt loam. Slopes range from nearly flat to approximately 12% slope. The original acres were 98. Harvey recently purchased and converted some unimproved forestland to grass making the farm 128 acres. Mr. Young operates a cow/calf operation, and he currently has 50 cows and 40 calves. calvesnewHe produces forage for grazing and for hay. Three fields are designated as hay fields and are harvested once in the season, and grazed the rest of the year, as stock-piled pasture. The remaining fields are designated as pasture. The fields range from 4.5 to 14.2 acres. He has approximately ten fields dedicated to hay/pasture. Harvey also grows an organic garden. There are also 5-7 bee hives on the property. He produces honey from apple, poplar, and clover. Besides the cattle, he has two draft horses on the farm, a couple of black Percheon horses. There are a few chickens, guineas, and ducks near the garden. Mr. Young said they do an excellent job of controlling insects around and in the garden.

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Bill Parker

Bill Parker is our 10th in the series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Bill is Chairperson of the Lauderdale County Soil Conservation District (SCD) Board of Supervisors. He is also an officer of the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD), serving as secretary. Bill's father also served on the local Lauderdale County SCD Board of supervisors, showing a family line of conservation minded farmers. Bill takes every opportunity to influence others for the cause of conservation. He invited the field staff from Lauderdale County and Haywood County both NRCS and District employees to join us the day that I interviewed him (October 13, 2015). We examined his soil and discussed soil health strategies. Bill has asked me to do the same in March of 2016 with farmers from Lauderdale and Haywood Counties.IMG 1039new

Bill's home headquarters is in Durhamville, Tennessee, the south part of Lauderdale County about 5-6 miles north of the Hatchie River. He farms approximately 50 percent of his operation in Lauderdale County and 50 percent in Haywood County. His operation is approximately 5,000 acres, about 1,000 acres are under center pivot irrigation.

Bill is from a long-line of farmers. The original farm was purchased and farmed by Bill's ancestors in 1830. Bill is a sixth generation farmer. He has two sons farming with him making them seventh generation farmers. Bill farms some Hatchie bottoms and creek bottom lands, but the predominant acres are uplands on loess soils. These soils are Loring Silt Loam and Felliciano Silt Loam (formerly mapped Memphis Silt Loam). The slopes are rolling 2-6 percent and highly erodible.

Bill began farming in 1975 using four wheel drive tractors to pull chisel plows and disks. He used conventional tillage in his early farming history. He began farming rotations of corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton. He began experimenting with no-till soybeans in late 1970s. He gradually moved into no-till with corn and wheat. He was one of the first adopters of no-till cotton, beginning in the late 1980s. As time passed, Bill was in continuous no-till by 1990s, except to repair ruts or small erosion areas and wet spots. One of the traits, I've noticed in our profiles of heroes series is that the crop farmers were one of the first or their families were the early adopters of no-till. Another trait, especially in West Tennessee, is that most of the profiles of heroes began with the use of structural practices to combat concentrated flow induced erosion on the highly erodible soils in West Tennessee. Bill also follows that mold. His great-grandfather began building terraces. Most of Bill's farms have a series of terraces with pipe-outlets and water and sediment control structures. One can see a progression of conservation on Bill's farming operation, concentrated flow structural conservation practices, to continuous no-till, to diverse crop rotations, and to cover crops.

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Elvis Bellar

IMG 1126newElvis Bellar is eleventh in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Elvis is unique in that he is a new farmer. He was crops specialist for American Cyanmid Chemical Company for three years. He was crops specialist for Montgomery County Farmers Cooperative for eleven years. He began as a farmer in 2005. Elvis has his bachelors of science in Agricultural Economics from the University of Kentucky. Elvis is a Robertson County Soil Conservation District Board of Supervisor. This profile is featuring his farm in Montgomery County, Tennessee. He also farms in Robertson County, Tennessee, and Todd County, Kentucky. He produces corn, wheat, soybeans, and tobacco. His cropland totals 450 acres. He also manages a 650 acres cow/calf operation. This profile will feature his cropland management. Elvis is shown signing an EQIP contract with Kevin Hart, NRCS District Conservationist, Clarksville, Tennessee.

Elvis' predominant soils in Tennessee are Baxter Cherty Silt Loam, Mountview Silt Loam, and Dickson Silt Loam. In Todd County Kentucky, his predominant soils are Pembroke and Crider Silt Loams. Elvis applies nutrients by broadcasting. He currently applies 150 units of nitrogen (N) for corn on Tennessee soils and 200 units of N on Kentucky soils. Elvis applies fertilizer and lime according to soil test results. He maintains a pH of approximately 6.0.



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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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