Soil Health Heroes

Robert Henley

Carbon Cycling, the key to High Productive Soils and Higher Profits

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Coffee County Soil Conservation District is very active in promoting, and are very successful in applying conservation practices to improve soil health. Adam Daugherty, Allen Willmore, the Soil Conservation District Board, and many farmers have come together in unison promoting soil health resulting in over 75 farmers actively practicing long-term no-till and the use of cover crops to regenerate their soils and change the overall soil health. They are mimicking nature with diversity and pumping carbon into the soil to ignite both quantity and quality IMG 3184newof soil biology resulting in breaking down freshly produce carbon and improving soil aggregation and nutrient cycling. One farm in particular has been a focus of many soil health meetings, soil health field days, and even the location for NRCS' soil health team to meet and develop our soil health strategy for the state. I know personally that I have been on this farm no less than six times. Robert Henley is agronomist at Security Seed and Chemical and landowner/manager of his farm of 70 acres in Hillsboro, Tennessee in Coffee County. Robert is our 38th Profiles of Soil Health Hero.

IMG 2672newRobert is well known in Coffee County in assisting farmers to reach their yield potential in corn and soybeans. Adam Daugherty, NRCS District Conservationist credits Robert and a few other farmers in the county to ask the right questions to motivate thinking and progressing in a carbon-driven agricultural system to transform soils to from somewhat dysfunctional to functional. I first met Robert in February of 2014 at a soil health meeting on his farm. We were touring one of his more productive fields that later in 2014 yielded 315 bushels of corn dryland production in a national corn yield growing contest. Robert, at the time, had some wheat and Austrian winter peas planted for cover crops. We learned from Adam and Robert that the high producing field had been in cattle production for 53 years. It was in predominantly fescue for over 53 years. Unlike many farms that are tilled converting grasses to crop land, Robert no-tilled into the fescue field, so it was never tilled in the last 60 years plus. Robert remarked the day that I interviewed him for this article on October 11, 2017, that the field was left in grass so long because it was thought to be unproductive for corn and soybeans.

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Bobby Ellison

Using Annual Sorghum-Sudangrass in Cool-Season Pastures to Improve Soil Health and Better Profit

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IMG 3161newBobby Ellison is a NRCS Soil Conservation Technician assigned to Union County Soil Conservation District Office and also the NRCS FieldIMG 3158newOffice in Tazewell, Tennessee. Bobby provides technical and financial assistance to farmers in Union and Claiborne Counties. Mike Shoffner is District Conservationist of Tazewell Field Office which also has jurisdiction over Union County. Bobby began his career as an intermittent employee in 1996. He became a county employee with a partnership with NRCS until 2000 where he then became a full-time employee with NRCS. Bobby said during my interview with him that he always had a passion for farming. His attractiveness to the land led him to a career in natural resource conservation as well as farming.

Bobby purchased his farm with his dad in the 1980s from Bobby's grandfather. Bobby is a fourth-generation farmer from Sharps Chapel area of Union County. He said that his goal in life 'is to make things better." Bobby farms 800 acres with 150 cows with approximately 138 calves and a few bulls. Bobby has a unique grazing operation and is our 37th Profile of Soil Heath Heroes. 

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Glenn Hopkins

From 300 Acres to 4,000 Acres, Cover Crops and No-till Change Soil Health in Tipton County, TennesseeIMG 3025new

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I visited the Hopkins' Farm on July 13, 2017 along with George Henshaw, NRCS District Conservationist for Lauderdale County, Tennessee and Acting District Conservationist for Tipton County. "Gentleman" would be the word to describe Glenn Hopkins. He and his family are truly hospitable and gracious. I feel bless to visit this family and to write about their accomplishments. Glenn Hopkins is our 35th Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Glenn's partner and wife is Marcie. Their oldest son is Nathan, 18 years old. Nathan is active working on the farm. He is also active in tractor pulling. Glenn and Marcie also have twin sons who are 13 years old, Mike and Mitch. They assist on the farm. Glenn's parents, Troy and Gail Hopkins also own interest in the farming operation.

Glenn Hopkins is a third-generation farmer from Tipton County, Tennessee. Glenn's grandfather was a cotton ginner, and farmed cattle, cotton, and chickens. He would work the cotton gin in the fall, and the family would farm the cotton. His grandparents began farming as share croppers. Glenn's grandfather died when he was three years old. Glenn shared that he began driving a tractor at age 7. Growing up working on the farm was expected. It also became his hobby along with baseball until he was 10. He farmed until college age. The 1980s were tough for farmers. There were droughts and prices were not that good. Glenn went off to college, but after seeing college was not for him, he went into law enforcement at age 19. He was a deputy sheriff for Tipton County. During this time, Glenn did earn an Associate's degree in law enforcement and was planning to finish a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice at Memphis State University. His father had an injury and required surgery in the fall of 1992. Glenn did not go to school that fall. He stayed on the farm and harvested the crops. He married Marcie in 1994 and began contemplating his occupation for the future. He decided that farming was more conducive for his family than law enforcement. Troy offered him a job farming with him, and Glenn became a full-time farmer in 1995.IMG 3026new

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Adam Joyner

Farmer Began Farming by No-tilling and Planting Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health

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 IMG 3037newAdam Joyner is our 36th Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Adam is a full-time farmer operating in Gibson County, Tennessee. His farming operation is made up of eight different farms withIMG 3132new a total acreage of approximately 700 acres. He said that all acres except 80 acres are either in winter cover crops (420 acres) or winter wheat (200 acres). Adam has his degree in Wildlife Management and began farming in 2012. He started farming by taking over a field that had been previously vertical tilled in 2012. His cover crop experience began in 2013, growing both turnips and/or radishes. The brassicas winter-killed, and Adam planted no-till into the cover. Adam never tilled or has not had cover crops in his management other than the field he took over for in 2012. Adam's farming operation consists of corn-wheat and soybean rotation. He farms predominantly Memphis Silt Loam, Providence Silt Loam, and Loring Silt Loam soil types. His slopes are gently sloping to sloping with slopes ranging 2 - 6%. These soils are from loess parent material and are highly erosive. His corn is planted on 30" row spacing while his soybeans are on 15" row spacing. Wheat is drilled. He uses a fluted coulter with a floating roll cleaner, double disk opener on his Kinze planter, and one rubber closing wheel and one spike closing wheel. Adam is considering dropping the spike closing wheel in 2018 and operate with two rubber closing wheels. He said the spike closing wheel had wrapping issues with the cover crop residue.  

Adam takes intensive soil test samples on 2.5 acres grids. Samples are pulled on three-year intervals. Adam applies phosphate (P), Potash (K), and lime according to soil test and by variable rate. He previously was applying 70 units of nitrogen (N) in the form of Urea at planting for corn with a second application of 120 units (granular). Since going to cover crops, he has increased to 90-100 units of N at planting to compensate for the increased carbon from the cover crops. The second N application is side dressed at approximately the V-5 growth stage, with 60-70 units of N. He sees the need to improve N-efficiency and plans to purchase a knife applicator for side dressing of N in the future.

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Johnny and Will Robinson

Will and Johnny Robinson Making a Difference After First Year of Applying Cover Crops

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I had the privilege of visiting "Gentleman Farmers, Robinson Farms" in Carroll County on July 12, 2017. Joining me to meet with Johnny and Will Robinson were Matthew Denton, Area Resource Conservationist, NRCS, Jackson, Tennessee, Lee Harris, and Ethan Pipkin, both Soil Conservationists, NRCS, Huntingdon, Tennessee. Will and Johnny Robinson are our 34th Profiles of Soil Health Heroes.

IMG 2889newThe Robinsons live and farm in Lavinia,Tennessee. Their operation consists of approximately 3,800 acres. They farm about 900 acres in pasture with 250 mamma cows with approximately 250 calves. Their cattle are mostly black Angus. Their 2,900 acres of cropland consist of 2,000 acres of cotton with the remaining acres in corn and soybeans. The Robinsons annually soil test. The local Farmers' Cooperative soil test and apply nutrients and lime by precision application. Generally, the farm is high in phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O). They split apply nitrogen (N) for corn and cotton. They apply a portion prior to planting with urea and side dress with liquid N using a knife applicator. Johnny said that their pH on the farm ranges from 6.3 - 6.5. The Robinsons plant their cotton on 38" rows, corn on 30" rows, and soybeans on 19" rows. 

Johnny Robinson began experimenting with no-till in 1978. He assisted Tom McCutchen, the former Experiment Station Superintendent at the University of Tennessee Experiment Station in Milan, Tennessee, on building an 8-row Allis Chalmers no-till planter in 1980. We all know that Milan Tennessee Experiment Station became one of the foremost institution on spreading no-till in the south.IMG 2879new

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