Dyer County, Tennessee
Jesse Castleman farms grain crops with a corn and soybean rotation in Dyer County and resides in Newbern, Tennessee. Before Jesse took over the operation from his father Danny about two years ago, they team began experimenting with no-till and cover crops, predominately to control wind-erosion of their drought-prone, silt soils.
Growing multi-species cover crops annually for the last three years has added much needed active soil organic matter to their soils, according to the father and son team.
Their current mix consists of cereal rye, crimson clover, Austrian winter peas, Bob oats, and tillage radishes. They broadcast the seed in the first year and have since switched to drilling after corn (7.5″ rows), usually around the last week of September, and using a planter (15″ rows) after soybeans, usually the first week of October. They have noticed less weeds and better coverage where drilled compared to 15″ rows, so they plan to plant 100% cover crops with a drill next fall.
The team plants corn at 29,000 plants per acre and soybeans at 160,000 on hill-ground and 120,000 on bottom-lands. They terminate their covers at about waist-high and plant green or 14 to 21 days after termination.
Their advice to others is to start small with cover crops and learn how to plant in residues. “Try something different each year as you learn the system,” they said, and “definitely, begin using multi species.”
Jesse and Danny say their total soil organic matter levels hover around 2 – 2.5 %; earthworms were prevalent and biological activity on the soil’s surface is significant. The water cycle has returned to their fields, which means the water is being infiltrated more readily due to active carbon accumulating and soils are better aggregated. Erosion has been reduced dramatically, too, and the soils are softer and less compacted.
Since they’ve been using covers, the Castlemans say mares tail and pigweed pressure is so low they’re saving at least one to two extra herbicide treatments, which amounts to $17 – $25 per acre in savings. And when they see run-off from their fields, it looks like drinking water: very clear. These benefits are encouraging Jesse and Danny to stay the course in using cover crops and sticking to no-till.