Soil Health Heroes

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 - 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 - Richard (Dick) Hashe

Using the Roller/Crimper to Improve Soil Health

Richard (Dick) Hashe is the fourth in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Dick is not only a 4th generation farmer, but since 2010, he has worked full time for the McMinn County Soil Conservation District. He handles the administrative duties of the office as well as coordination of District events, such as the renting of District’s equipment to the public. With his dual role as farmer and District Employee, Dick Hashe is an excellent example of a Soil Health Hero.

His ancestors moved down from Lee County, Virginia to Greene County, Tennessee and finally to McMinn County in 1950. The farm was purchased in 1950 and quickly converted to a dairy in 1951, where the enterprise sustained the family until 2009. From 2009 until present, the farm consists of 200 total acres, 115 acres in grain crops, 50 acres in pasture, 15 in woods, and 20 in miscellaneous acres for home, barn, etc.

This profile will focus on the 115 acres of grain crops. The crop fields average 2-5 % slope on reddish-brown limestone soils. He generally produces 20 acres of corn along with 95 acres of soybeans annually. His normal rotation is corn followed by three years of soybeans. Dick soil tests every three years. He maintains his pH at 6.3 to 6.5. His fertility is medium to high, and he applies maintenance amounts of nutrients according to soil test.

In 1969, Dick and his family was one of the first adopters in McMinn County to no-till. They began with 2-row planter with a “subsoiler Pasture Dream” with shoes or points. They understood early the importance of protecting against sheet and rill erosion. They stayed consistent with no-till except for an occasional disking to keep the fields smooth. Last finishing disk was used in 2009. Dick has practiced continuous no-till since 2009. Dick bought a 4-row John Deere Planter in 1982. Other than adjustments to the planter, it is still used on the farm.

While visiting the Hashe farm in April of 2015, we noticed a few fields in little barley (Hordeum pusillum Nutt.) which is a native, annual, cool-season grass that can form dense colonies in some cropland fields in the southeastern United States that are no-tilled

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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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Soil Health Heroes - Matt Griggs

Improving Soil Health in Lieu of Irrigation

This is the third in a series of “Profiles of Soil Health Heroes.” This profile is on Matt Griggs, Madison, Crockett, and Gibson Counties, Tennessee. Matt is owner and operator of a gently rolling hillside farming operation in West Tennessee. Matt’s farming operation consists of 1,600 owned and rental acres predominantly on loess and Coastal Plains Soils, slopes ranging from 2 – 6 %.

Matt farmed with his father up to 2005. Their cropping system was corn, soybeans, and cotton from 2000-2005. Since 2000, they practiced continuous no-till without full width tillage. Matt became the main operator since 2005 cropping season. Matt’s fields are fairly small with odd tree lines. The size and shapes of his fields make pivot irrigation options impractical.

Matt Griggs

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