Tim Cornie has been experimenting with both cover crops (peas, lentils, and soon, hairy vetch) and direct seed technology on his organic farm near Buhl, Idaho, for several years. A field that he direct seeded three consecutive crops into was a stop on a no-till and cover crop farm tour in October 2015. Tim has also spoken on the merits of soil health practices at both organic and direct seed workshops across southern Idaho.
Tim joined the Balanced Rock Soil Conservation District in September 2014. He is keenly interested in building soil health to protect his soil and water resources and improve his bottom-line.
“We probably learn more from our mistakes than our successes,” Tim told the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission. But “(w)e’re not doing anything new; we’re going back to the old practices (before synthetic fertilizers). Healthy soil is healthy food,” he said.
Tim raises organic corn, wheat, barley, and corn silage. He bought a no-till drill from a friend in Idaho County and has since been using less water and seeing more earth worm activity in the soil. “My worms just took off with the no-till,” he said.
One thing he’s learned about growing corn with the no-till method is that he needs to create and maintain about 3 inches of clean dirt around the corn seeds for adequate water and sun infiltration. He tweaked the corn planter to create the space around the seeds. “That one little trick will make all the difference.” He’s also done some plowing to better control weeds.
Tim’s 16-year-old daughter Charlie does all of his biology work, checking the soil for microbial activity. It’s all trending in the right direction, he says. He’s trying something novel – he’s creating a custom tea to energize the microbes in the soil. He creates the tea cocktail with worm casings, kelp, seaweed, and molasses, and sprays the tea onto the soil with his pivots.
“I did two or three applications during the growing season per field,” he said. Next year, Tim will try putting three pounds of red clover into the water and spraying it on his corn crop when it’s knee-high. Tim is also working to phase out his use of manure for fertilizer. He sees some soil compaction occur with manure, and the manure can carry unwanted seeds of weeds into his fields. “It’s in my best interest to back away from it,” he said.
For more information on Tim’s operation, check out the feature article in the May 2017 edition of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission’s newsletter.