Soil Health Heroes

Willis Jepson

Jepson Family Farms are Overcoming Challenges of No-till and Cover Crops to Improve Soil and Improve Profits

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The best part of my job is that I spend time with farmers and their families not only interviewing them for these articles, but spend quality time digging in the soil with them looking at the changes in their soil from applying conservation practices. The enthusiasm they have is contagious. Willis Jepson of Jepson Family Farms is a prime example of hard working farmers making a difference in farming and changing his soil health. Willis is our 46th Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. He farms in north Robertson County IMG 4119newline near Orlinda and Cross Plains, Tennessee and in southern Simpson County, Kentucky. My visit was on July 3, 2018. Nathan IMG 4125newHicklin, Soil Conservationist, NRCS, Springfield joined me on the visit. Nathan recently received the offer of District Conservationist for Springfield effective in early September, 2018. Nathan has assisted many farmers in Robertson County as well as in Cheatham and Maury Counties to improve their soil health.

I could tell the special community connection when Willis took us to Thomas Drugs, Cross Plains, Tennessee for lunch. I literally thought I stepped back in time such as the drug store portrayed in "It's a Wonderful Life" or a Norman Rockwell painting. It was nostalgic and reminiscent to drug stores 70 years ago. They had a malt shop with a variety of lunch menu that was very tasty. The experience was as good as the food. I say this to describe the environment that Willis Jepson and his family share on a daily basis. It is truly small-town USA. Jepson Family Farm is a large family farm consisting of over 5,000 acres. With double cropping of wheat and soybeans, they plant over 7,000 acres annually. Willis shared with me that he is a 7th generation farmer. His sons will be the 8th generation. The farming operation dates back to 1806. I think this history and the legacy of the farm motivates him to be on the cutting edge to constantly improve his soils and his net income.

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Brian Inman

Farmer from Benton County Increases Moisture in Gravely Soils by Growing Cover Crops

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I visited the farming operation of Brian Inman on June 28, 2018 along with NRCS District Conservationist, James Woodall. Brian is our Profiles of Soil Health Hero Number IMG 4071new45. Brian farms predominantly in Benton County with a few acres in Decatur County. Brian's grandfather was a share cropper. His dad moved away from Tennessee for IMG 4084newwork, but moved back to Tennessee in 1960s and began farming. Brian began farming with his dad as a boy and teenager. Brian farms now with his brother, Wade Inman. Brian and Wade worked the ground originally as most farmers did during that time frame. They began experimenting with no-till in the 1990s. Brian previously worked at local Truck Service Center and farmed part-time for many years. He became a full-time farmer in 2002. His farming operation is approximately 2,500 acres. 

Brian said that they converted from tillage to no-till due to labor, was easier to plant with more moisture, and to reduce erosion.  His planter is an IH vacuum planter with no coulter with lead disk opener. He said it is essential to frequently check the bearings and to keep the disk opener sharp. He uses floating Martin row cleaners. The key, Brian says, is to barely see where row cleaners have been. Too much pressure results in bare soil. Bare soil loses function. On wet soils, he uses a very light pass of Philips harrow to lift crop residue and careful not to disturb soil. Brian uses Yetter closing rubber wheels for firming seed bed.

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Alex Johnson

West Tennessee Farmer Making a Difference in Soil Properties

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Alex Johnson of Henderson County, Tennessee is our 43rd Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. On May 3, 2018, I had the privilege of spending some time visiting with Alex, his father, Mr. Johnson, and Meredith Crosby, NRCS District Conservationist, Henderson and Decatur Counties. Alex is a retired physician who also farmed his final 10 years of his medical career, which was quite challenging. He now farms full-time with his father. Alex became interested in changing farming practices to improve soil health by reading about nutrient management and soil health changes. Once he tried it; he was hooked and has been consistently growing covers for the last five years. IMG 3904new

IMG 3899newThe Johnson farm is located in eastern Henderson county near Lexington, Tennessee. They farm upland loess fields (windblown silt) and creek and river bottoms. When we first went to the field for the interview for this article, Alex remarked that recent flooding on the Beech river showed muddy water coming off a nearby neighbor who uses tillage. In contrast, the water running off Alex's farm was clear. Many of the covers that we walked in were head high (6 feet) and some that were chest high (4.5 half feet). Alex told us that the cover crops are suppressing weeds, and he has reduced one herbicide spraying per year. He also uses IPM (Integrated Pest Management). He has reduced annual foliar fungicides. If scouting shows the need, he will apply them. He said that he is saving conservatively $34.00 per acre on herbicide and fungicide savings.

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Dusty Matlock

Franklin County Farmer Changes Soil with No-till, applying Cover Crops, and Grazing Cover Crops

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I had the privilege on June 12, 2018 to visit the farming operation of Dusty Matlock with LaDonna Caldwell, NRCS District Conservationist along with her staff in Winchester, Tennessee. Dusty farms in Franklin County, Tennessee. Dusty is our Profiles of Soil Health Hero number 44. The area near the Alabama border and some areas in Franklin County farms using conventional tillage. Dusty and some others in Franklin County have decided to farm differently by no-tilling and using cover crops. I asked Dusty if he IMG 4261newwas from a farming background family. His father was in the auto body business. His grandfather was a full-time farmer, and he operated a cow-calf operation. As Dusty was IMG 4263newa junior in high school, his grandfather had a stroke in the fall of 1998. This was beginning of a career altering change for Dusty. He began to assist his grandfather with the farming operation in the spring of 1999. Dusty was given the opportunity to partner with his grandfather with Dusty receiving one-third of the proceeds from the farm. Dusty rented a farm as a senior in high school and built the farming operation from there. Later, his grandfather became disabled due to dementia and Dusty's part of the farm went to 50-50 cash-rent. Most of his farming operation is in the Oak Grove and Estill Springs communities.

Dusty's farming operation includes 1,800 acres of cropland and grazing 450-500 pounds stocker calves. The NRCS has assisted the farm on watering systems. They graze steers up to 850 pounds and heifers are grazed up to 750-775 pounds. They practice some prescribe grazing, that is rotating pastures to provide recovery of forage.  They had previously been growing hay with annual wheat. For the last 15 years, they have planted wheat and crimson clover.

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Claude Callicott

Humphreys County Farmer Improves Soil Productivity on a River Bottom Farm

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 Our 42nd Profiles of Soil Health Heroes is Claude Callicott of Humphreys County. The farming operation is on the Duck River near where Humphreys, Hickman, and Perry Counties come together. I had the privilege to visit Claude and the farming operation with Wayne Coates, NRCS District Conservationist for Humphreys and Houston Counties. We visited the farm on April 24, 2018. Wayne and his family were honored as the 2016 Humphreys County's Conservation Farmer of the Year. 

IMG 3868newClaude grew up farming with his father, Clint Callicott and his brother, Clayton Callicott. In fact, Claude credits his dad for his desire to farm and to improve soil health. He is a third-generation farmer from Williamson County. They farmed 700 acres in Williamson County. Inheritance tax caused the farming operation to move to Humphreys County. Claude shared that they leased out their farm in 1996-IMG 3891new2000. Claude's dad was the County Executive for Williamson County, and Claude was in college at Maryville College. He majored in Mathematics and began teaching and coached football. His experiences as a child farming and his desire to farm were the forces that caused him to select farming as a full-time occupation. He told his dad; "I have to get back on the combine." His dad responded; "get back in there and learn it." Claude wanted to farm on his own. His dad wisely led Claude to form a partnership with him. He said "you need someone to share the stress." Claude reflects that his dad's advice was true. They began in 2002 and farmed together until his dad passed away in 2015.

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