Grant and Don Norwood
Henry County, Tennessee
Grant, a fifth generation farmer, and his father Don Norwood own and operate a 3,200-acre century farm in the Pleasant Hill area of Mansfield in Henry County, Tennessee. Grant’s great-great grandfather came to the area from North Carolina. Their predominant soils are highly erodible loess soils on slopes ranging from 2 to 8 percent. The father and son team rotate corn, wheat, and soybeans and use GMO seeds to reduce herbicide and insecticides. They practice variable rate fertilizing and liming, and soil sample every other year.
Don says their structural practices complement their farm’s continuous no-till (started in 1972) and cover crops. About 600 acres have center pivot irrigation. The farm has been in conservation tillage for nearly four decades, and continuous no-till for approximately ten years. They currently use row-cleaners, but use no down pressure.
Five years ago, Grant and Don aerial planted 350 acres of cover crops (cereal rye at 30 pounds, crimson clover at 8 pounds, and 3 pounds of tillage radish per acre). The crimson clover adds nitrogen and lowers the carbon and nitrogen ratio to ensure the residue can easily decompose. The radishes store nutrients and loosen the soil. Grant said farmers need to be especially cautious when sowing cover crops after soybeans. Specifically, he suggested they plan for any carry over effects from herbicides that would affect broad leaf cover crops. The Norwoods learned quickly that planting after corn was easier due to earliness of harvest and less carry over issues. They generally plant when cover crops are still green usually grasses at flag stage and above 4.5 feet. Legumes are normally early bloom. They terminate after planting and prior to emergence.
Now, they use cover crops on 1,200 acres in the following mixture: 30 pounds of cereal rye, 10 pounds wheat, 5 pounds of crimson clover, 2 pounds tillage radishes, and 2 pounds of turnips per acre. Within their corn, wheat, and soybean rotation they have 2/3 of their operation in either winter wheat or cover crops. One third of their crops do not have cover crops or wheat. Currently, they plant 90 percent of their cover crops aerially, and 10 percent is air seeded with a drill. Because most of corn crop is followed by a wheat crop, 80 percent of the 1,200 acres of cover crops follow soybeans. The remaining 20 percent follows corn. Because of the cold temperatures in winter, they won’t be using Austrian winter peas any longer, Grant said.
Grants says the soil microbes have been increasing every year, and the benefits have been numerous and remarkable. Prior to ten years ago, soil organic matter (SOM) levels were at 1.5 percent. Currently, their lowest SOM is 2 percent and several fields exceed 3 percent. There is now plenty of soil moisture and lots of earthworms – even night crawlers, which are not common in West Tennessee. The Norwoods said their soil structure is more crumbly and less platy, their yields are sustained or increasing, and water infiltrates better than prior to sowing cover crops. They also said there is less mare’s tail pressure, which has led to less application of herbicide. They haven’t applied fungicide (or in-furrow insecticide) on corn for two years, and only use one fungicide on soybeans and wheat. They said that when crimson clover blooms, they see many lady bugs, which eat smaller pests.