Claiborne County, Tennessee
James England farms approximately 1,000 acres and raises about 280 head of beef cattle on his operation in Claiborne County, Tennessee. He also runs a greenhouse where he uses his own mix of compost to produce organic tomatoes. He has 40 fields that are generally between 15 and 40 acres each that contain 30 water tanks, so he can easily subdivide into smaller paddocks. He feeds corn and hay to 30 steers and heifers, feeding them out to 500 – 900 pounds depending on market prices.
On his corn fields, James no-tills and plants a multi-species cover crop in the fall. He also broadcasts sorghum-sudan grass seed around June 1 each year for hay and breaks the ground with a harrow for planting. James does one cutting of sorghum-sudan grass and grazes the rest of the season. The corn field is grazed in fall and spring when in winter cover crops. His pastures consist of cool season grasses such as fescue and legumes such as white clover, with some fields in sericea lespedeza and Johnson grass.
James also owns a couple of golf courses, where he applies the same soil health principles as he uses on his farmland. James conducted soil testing with world renown Elaine Engram and consulted with her on using his feed lot manure (plus wood chips and sawdust) for compost. He also follows the farming practices of Gabe Brown, a well-known soil health farmer and an advocate for soil health in North Dakota.
His compost mixture is a 2:1 mixture consisting of two-parts wood chips (or hardwood sawdust) and one-part feed lot manure. He mixes the manure with the wood chips for up to 60 days and the sawdust up to 90 days. His final product has a nice blend of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium with copper and zinc – approximately a 24:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. The compost has been valued at $90 per ton.
James applies approximately one ton per acre of solid compost on corn ground and hay ground. He follows up with a second application on corn land. Some of the pastureland has received one ton per acre of solid compost. He also mixes a compost tea consisting of the solid compost water, molasses, and either calcium or boron. This is sprayed on at 15-20 gallons per acre. Most fields receive the compost tea annually.
He uses two different cover crop mixtures. Before corn in the fall, he plants a mix of: 15 percent graze forage radish, 50 percent hairy vetch, 25 percent crimson clover, 5 percent Hunter leaf turnip, and 5 percent Winfred forage brassicas. He grazes the corn field in fall and spring using good grazing management. He does not graze wet, and he pulls the cattle off at 4 inches in height. Good manure distribution is the result of high density over small areas for short duration both on his pasture fields and cropland. The covers are rested in spring to grow and then terminated and corn is planted. The field has excellent biomass from the cover crops and manure distributed evenly.
His mix for pastureland in the spring is: 25 percent spring oats and Gaza fodder radish, 5 percent Prestige white clover, 5 percent Winfred forage brassicas, 5 percent grouse chicory, 10 percent tonic plantain, 25 percent atom prairie grass, and 25 percent Gala grazing brome grass.
James has combined the prescribed grazing to move cattle in to graze at heights of at 8-10 inches in height and over a short duration of about two days. The trampled grass is normally 4 inches in height after removing the herd. This allows for light interception and continuous growth. He also applies the solid compost and compost tea. All of these combinations lead to increased soil organic matter and good diverse populations of soil life. James’ soil testing results show his total biomass at 6,153.98 (excellent) and his soil diversity at 1.571 (very good). Good soil aggregation allows the soil to withstand water from rainfall without falling apart and causing soil crust. Soil cover and root growth are essential to good soil aggregation during a rainfall event. Soils with little cover or poor root growth will erode easily and slake (fall apart) when rainfall hits the soil surface.
Diversity is important showing a good balance of soil microbes. An imbalance is unhealthy and normally results in poor soil function such as lower nutrient cycling or disease. James “very good” diversity is the result of grazing management with equal deposits of manure spread out across the field from intense grazing over short durations. The high quality compost and compost tea provides quality carbon source for soil biology resulting in excellent soil health.
James’ soil organic matter (SOM) levels are above average. It is noteworthy that many of the slopes are 8 percent and greater. The soils are from dolomite cherty limestone with greater than 15 percent chert. The levels of SOM are extraordinary for these soils. The soils have good structure – they crumble easily – and are full of earthworm casts, indicating good earthworm activity. To promote earthworms, James has dug a silage pit (filled with some manure and old hay) and plans to build a roof soon. There, he’ll grow earthworms and collect their casts.