Ware Shoals, South Carolina
Pompey’s Rest (Jackson Family Pastures)
Don Jackson is an associate commissioner of the Laurens County Soil and Water Conservation District, vice president of the South Carolina Forage and Grazing Lands Coalition (SCFGLC), and commissioner for the South Carolina State Ethics Commission. He raises grass-finished Hereford cattle and Kiko goats with his wife Patsy on their 125-acre farm Pompey’s Rest in northwest South Carolina.
The Jackson’s livestock operation doesn’t utilize any grain or feed supplements – the livestock are all grass fed on 50 acres of pasture, Don told NACD. The farm also doesn’t use herbicides, pesticides, commercial nitrogen fertilizer (since 2008), or tilling. Don has employed a soil health management system on his farm that includes a diversity of cover crops and grasses for grazing (including perennials, annuals, cover crops, legumes, and forbes) and a rotational grazing schedule, which involves moving his cows to new paddocks daily. In 2017, he was the winner of the Laurens County Outstanding Beef Producer of the Year and the district’s Conservationist of the Year.
Don has also installed permanent cross-fencing in his pastures, fencing around ponds and streams, and conservation measures around livestock watering areas, as well as instituted bale grazing in the winter to build organic matter in the soil. He first started looking into different forage management practices for his operation in 2010 at the suggestion of his eldest son Patrick.
“I slowly started to try some of his (Patrick’s) suggested management practices just to keep some peace between us, such as rotating my stock before over grazing a pasture,” Don said. “It wasn’t long before I could see improvements in the pastures just by letting the grazed pasture rest. In 2011, the ‘lights when on’ and I made a 180 degree turn: I realized the standard conventional management practices I’d been using in the past were not working to improve soil health, forage quality, or my bottom line.”
“With the help of my local district conservationist, Lisa Good, we put together a conservation plan with cross-fencing, watering systems, and other conservation practices to improve the soil health and forage on the farm. With additional assistance from Cassie Wycoff, a Clemson University Extension agent, and Patrick’s continued input, we began to see many positive changes,” Don said. “Staying focused was sometimes been difficult due to the slow process of seeing good results, but each growing season we saw greater organic matter content, forage quality/quantity, and livestock health – all with fewer inputs. I have been using non-conventional grazing practices since 2011 and have seen a complete turnaround from where our farm was in 2008.”
Don says he’s had some “not so good” experiences since though. Not having adequate research, resources, and experts available to help him improve his soil health was a big one, he said. “Personally, I feel NRCS, NACD, state conservation affiliates, and conservation districts should offer and provide soil health training without the services of the land grant universities and their ‘experts.’ The land grant university in our area is still recommending the same old practices of burning down the grasses/weeds before turning the soil to plant, spraying herbicides to prevent weed growth, etc. Soil health training should be provided to producers who want to make a change. I’ve overcome a lack of soil health training by reaching out to soil health experts like Dr. Buz Kloot to conduct workshops in my home county.”
This May, Don held a soil health workshop at his farm with the SCFGLC. The workshop was sponsored by the Laurens County Soil and Water Conservation District and Buz Kloot was the keynote speaker.
Other challenges he’s come up against have been related to conventional thinking.
Among farmers, there’s a common misconception that using conservation practices will limit production, and that’s just not true, Don says. “These new practices will not only improve soil health and fertility, but keep current production rates consistent with less input costs.” Producers shouldn’t keep falling for the chemical companies’ “‘we have the product you need'” pitch, he said: nature is doing the work I need done for free.
Don also shared with NACD some final thoughts on why he feels that adopting soil health management practices has been a very positive decision for his farm, and why he believes others should try doing the same:
- “Neighbors and friends in the cattle business think I am crazy and have loss my mind. This is a good thing, I know that I have left my old practices behind and I am moving in the right direction when I hear that.”
- “I’ve come to understand that I am a grass producer, not a beef/goat producer, and what is going on under the grass in the soil is key to being a successful grass producer.”
- “More producers are seeing the benefit of managing their soil health every day.”
- “It has been encouraging to see NACD create and develop the Soil Health Champions Network to promote soil health practices on a local, state, and national level.”