This is the first of a series of "Profiles of Soil Health Heroes." Danny Powell, a third generation farmer from Cannon County improved the soil health and his overall 2,800 acres of his row crop operation. Danny began farming some of his current fields in the early 1980s. The fields had low pH, and low fertility. His predominant soils are Dickson/Sango which are inherently low in phosphorus.
Danny planted wheat as a crop on his low fertile soils. Wheat was in dough stage, and he decided to terminate the wheat cover and follow with soybeans, and hence a system of cover crops began. He has followed a cover crop system ever since, only missing some years of cover only due to excess wet seasons.
In the last four years, his cover crops of choice have progressed from only wheat to multi-species cover crops. His current cover crop mixture is cereal rye, Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, oats, and Daikon radish. He has been in continuous no-till since the 1980s.
His crop rotation has been progressing for several years; his crop rotation is corn-cover crop followed by soybean-cover crop. Besides cover crops, Mr. Powell also applies chicken litter to supply nutrients and to increase soil organic matter. Mr. Powell uses yield monitoring GPS to track yield results and samples soil by grids/zones. Satellite imagery is used to adjust rates. Mr. Powell monitors his soils to achieve optimum fertility while protecting the environment by not over applying nitrogen and phosphorus.
Mr. Powell has observed anecdotal changes in his soil from no-tilling, from cover crops and leaving crop residue, and providing continuous root growth. The changes are increases in soil carbon and increased aggregate stability resulting in more visible infiltration, and essentially no sheet erosion. Soil life has increased, especially with more evident earth worm numbers. He also has witnessed significant increases in yields with no increase of inputs other than his cover crops. The video below shows earthworm activity and excellent soil structure.