Growing Cover Crops to Manage Nutrients and to Improve Soil Health Near the Mississippi River
My name is Mike Hubbs. I am the Soil Health Specialist with Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD). I have authored the series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. I introduce myself in this article because I live in north Knox County in a community called Halls, sometimes called Halls Crossroads. In its long history, Halls Crossroads, or as locals call it Halls, has attempted to obtain its own postal zip code. For whatever reason, it has not happened. Years ago, they tried and the post office was going to be named Halls Dale in order not to be confused with Halls, Tennessee. That fell through, and Halls still has a Knoxville zip code.
I give you this background because our next Profiles of Heroes, number 26 is Charlie Roberts from Halls, Tennessee in Lauderdale County. Halls Crossroadsin Knox County is approximately 400 miles east of Halls, Tennessee in Lauderdale County. I say all of this because it has been a common miscommunication. Recently a delivery for Halls in Knox County comes to Halls in West Tennessee. The driver of the truck was absolutely perturbed when he realized that he had to drive an additional 400 miles east because of miscommunication from his home office. So on November 3, 2016, I made my way from Halls in North Knox County to just 14 miles east of the Mississippi River in Halls, Tennessee. I met Charlie Roberts and George Henshaw, NRCS District Conservationist for Lauderdale County at Charlie's mother's place of business, Charlene's Collectibles and lunch at " Just Divine Tea Room." I was surprised by the bustle of activity at Charlene's Collectibles with several women all over the region shopping and eating. I am not accustomed to eating at too many "Tea Rooms;" however, I must say the food was great and plentiful for a man's appetite. I can see why the crowd was there.
I have attended some Soil Health Round Table Discussions with Charlie Roberts over the last two years in Madison County on two occassions. I also traveled with him with the Tennessee's tour of Dave Brandt's in Ohio in August of 2015. I have also seen him at some field days where I presented. I knew about his enthusiasm to learn more about soil health. I also had discussed with him some of his farming experiences. Thus, I am now writing about his sucesses in improving his soil.
With drought and extreme warm weather this fall, I noted the temperature was 82 degrees on November 3, 2016 at Charlie's farm. They have not received any rain in approximately six weeks. Charlie said the last rain was 0.25 to 0.5 inch. Charlie said that he was a fourth-generation farmer. I also met his Dad, Ronnie during lunch. He said that their ancestors made their way from North Carolina to the Cumberland river and then westward to Carroll County. The Roberts made their way from Carroll County in 1920 in seven wagons and traveled for seven days to the Barr Community in Lauderdale County. Their reason for picking up and relocating was the inexpensive land prices and higher fertility of the soils adjacent to the Mississippi River. Their original track of land was the Barr Farm on the Mississippi River. Ronnie said that Charlie runs the farming operation now. Ronnie helps out from time to time with the farming operation and also at Charlene's Collectibles. Charlie said their original farm was a historical cotton farm. Recently the farm has changed to a corn, soybean, triticale and cereal rye and oats for grain. They only produced corn, soybeans and oats in 2015 and 2016. The last cotton produced on the farm was 2013. Charlie says they will continue to grow corn, soybeans, oats, triticale and rye in the future. The farming operation is approximately 1,300 acres.
Read more: Charlie Roberts
No-till Tobacco with Cover Crops improve Soil Health and Increase Farmer's Profits
Tobacco is not normally thought of as a crop that improves soil health. By the time George Washington returned to Mount Vernon in the 1780s, tobacco was a predominant cash crop in the colonies and had been since 1611. Like his father before him, Washington grew tobacco. He noticed the land had lost its fertility. George Washinton replaced tobacco with wheat and began a crop rotation system to bring life back into the soil. Many years after, we are still trying crop rotations that will improve our soil health. Traditionally, tobacco is plowed and followed by at least two other secondary tillage methods to smooth the field prior to transplanting. Even though tobacco is normally rotated, a typical tobacco field can suffer from soil erosion during the years in tobacco. When you examine a traditionally plowed tobacco field, one normally does not see many soil health indicators improving.
That what makes this Profile of Soil Health Hero unique. Corby Brown grows no-till tobacco and is improving soil health. Corby is our 24th Profile of Soil Health Hero. He farms in Macon and Clay Counties, Tennessee, as well in Monroe, Barren, and Metcalf Counties, Kentucky. Corby grows personally approximately 250 acres of Burly tobacco. He works with his son, Christopher, and nephew, Elliot. Their combined acres total approximately 1,000 acres of Burly tobacco. There are also others in his family involved. Corby is the specialist for setting tobacco where Christopher focuses on fertility, and Elliot on weed management. They all have their personal farms but work together as far as advising and assisting one another. Corby also grows corn, soybeans, and some cereal rye. He also grows some sweet potatoes. His tobacco is planted in 40" rows. Corn and soybeans are planted on 20" rows. He annually soil tests. He maintains a pH of approximately 6.2 or greater. His yields in the last three years have been approximately 70 bushels of soybeans, 210 bushels of corn per acre, and 1600 - 2100 pounds of tobacco per acre.
Read more: Corby Brown