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.
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.
Read more: Bill Parker
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.
Grant 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.
Read more: Grant and Don Norwood