Stoddard County Soil and Water Conservation District
Allen Below farms cotton, popcorn, field corn, rice, and soybeans on 7,500 acres in Parma, Missouri. Allen’s great grandfather began farming the land – then 2,000 acres – in the early 1990s, and passed it down to Allen’s grandfather. Today, Allen works the land with this mother, two younger farmers who are brothers, and five to eight employees. Allen is an only child with two daughters.
Below uses two to five species of cover crops on his fields and almost 100 percent no-till. He’s been working to improve his farm’s soil health for about four years now, and almost all of what has resulted from using conservation practices has been positive, he says. “I can tell the difference in the soil just by digging – there’s a larger earthworm population and less compaction.”
Allen believes his crops experience less disease, too, and because the soils retain more moisture, he’s noticed less soil and nutrient running off the fields. For years, the family has been surface flooding their fields as a way to irrigate their flat acreage, but they’re now hopeful the cover crops will increase the soil’s moisture enough that there won’t be any need for additional irrigation this season.
Allen is currently working out some kinks he’s encountered using cover crops. In the upper region of the southern United States, farmers are getting cooler weather that’s made planting and harvesting covers tough, he says. He also suspects using cover crops on his cotton fields contributed to crop losses. “It wasn’t the cause, but it played a part in losing some of it,” he said. “But I’m not giving up though!” Allen is also working out how he can apply fertilizer directly on his crops so the plant reaps all the nutrient benefits and he doesn’t waste a drop.