Carbon Cycling, the key to High Productive Soils and Higher Profits
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 of 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.
Robert 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.
Read more: Robert Henley
A Day with Blackberry Farm, Producing Organic Heirloom Vegetables Without Tilling
Blackberry Farm is a 4,200-acre luxury hotel resort located in Walland, Tennessee, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Blackberry Farm wasbuilt in 1939 and has evolved into the luxury resort in Blount County that it is today. My interest in Blackberry Farm began about a year ago in September, 2016. I was asked by Blount County Soil Conservation District's Conservation Director, Erich Henry to join him to work with Michael Washburn, Garden Manager at Blackberry Farm. In 2015, Michael became the garden manager. The garden consists of approximately 3 acres. The garden produces heirloom vegetables that are served at the resort's two kitchens. There is close correlation and team chemistry between the gardeners and the chefs.
I could tell when I first met Michael Washburn that he was a trained agronomist. He also had experience in restaurants, so again you could see a close correlation of producing and preparing the food. The garden produces food organically. They are not organic certified, but they grow food without chemicals and work on improving their most important natural resource, their soil. Some areas and especially one of the lower fields that had been regularly tilled in the past, were of particular interest. Here soil structure was still lacking. Michael had already followed some great conservation practices. They were making their own compost and applying it regularly. Michael had done research on biochar and constructed an outdoor stove to burn wood and collect the char. You can see the black char in the rows of vegetables. Compost is an active carbon source that feed soil biology. Biochar is a stable carbon source. Many of the chemical properties of soil from humus can be improved by adding bio-char. For background, go to Terra preta on Wikipedia, Terra preta is Portuguese for black soils. Michael is emulating Terra preta by adding bio-char.
Read more: Blackberry Farm