Cannon County, Tennessee
Danny Powell, a third generation farmer from Cannon County, owns and operates a 2,800 row crop operation where, for the last four years, he’s been experimenting with different types of cover crops. His current cover crop mixture is cereal rye, Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, oats, and Daikon radish. Danny has had his farm in continuous no-till since the 1980s.
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 increase soil organic matter. Mr. Powell uses yield monitoring GPS to track yield results, samples soil by grids/zones, and uses satellite imagery to adjust fertilizer application rates.
Mr. Powell has observed anecdotal changes in his soil from no-tilling and using cover crops, including increases in soil carbon, aggregate stability, and infiltration, and essentially no sheet erosion. Soil life – especially earth worm numbers – have increased and he’s witnessed significant increases in yields without increasing inputs.
Mr. Powell advises farmers to treat their covered ground differently from tilled soil. They should take more time than normal in setting the planter wheel, he says, use cast iron closing wheels to assure good soil to seed contact in heavy residues. Danny stresses the need to slow down to assure the planter is planting at the proper depth consistently during the planting process. Danny also suggests increasing their planting population by 5 to 8 percent. When planning a cover crop or multi species cover crops, he uses 3.9 type soybeans instead of type 4.8. The 3.9 type beans mature 2 to 3 weeks earlier, allowing for an earlier harvest. It is essential to plant the cover crop mixture early enough to establish a stand that will provide enough winter cover. When harvesting, Danny assures even distribution of harvested corn and soybean residue.
With cover crops being an important component in his soil health improving system, he recently purchased a 30-foot air drill specifically to drill cover crops. The increase in cover crop acreage, plus the complexity of planting multi-species cover crops, persuaded Danny to make the investment. In 2014, he seeded over 1,000 acres of multi-species cover crops.
Mr. Powell’s conservation work began with a simple two-crop rotation made more diverse with a cover crop mixture. Different species of cover within the two-year rotation naturally reduce pressure from weeds, insects, and disease. No-till protects all of those benefits that stem from heavy crop residues and cover crops.
Click here to watch a YouTube video of Danny on his farm describing his experiences with cover crops.