Karl and Alex Forsbach
Hardin County, Tennessee
Karl Forsbach and his son Alex Forsbach farm in Hardin County below Pickwick Dam near Savannah, Tennessee. From time to time, the Tennessee Valley Authority must flood the terrace soils in the area due to excess rain. The threat of flood has meant some farmers are resistant to using no-till and cover crops for fear the water will move crop residue into large piles or drown out cover crops. Karl and Alex have taken a different approach. They’ve been using vertical tillage to anchor the residue when flooding occurs.
Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a master’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University. Together, he and his father farm about 3,300 acres of corn, soybeans, milo (grain sorghum), and wheat. They irrigate approximately 900 acres of those acres with a central pivot system, and use a no-till planter and drill.
The Forsbachs have been using no-till for many years and cover crops for three. They drill all of their covers after harvest by October 15 and have found rye grass handles the flooding best. The Forsbachs terminate their covers with two passes of Round-up and one of Gramoxone when they reach knee-high, and plant two-weeks later.
Before using covers, the farm’s soil organic matter content (SOM) measured lower than 1%. Now, the soils have a granular structure and some sub-angular blocky structure – indicating that the soil biology is aggregating well – and a SOM content of 2.5% on average.
The father-son team is mimicking the forest with its multi-species cover crop mix and says that they will exceed a natural forest SOM (which averages 3% SOM) in the near future. They say using no-till and covers has provided better water infiltration, greater numbers of earthworms and other soil biology, more weed control, and a savings of $17 – $25 per acre on fungicides.
Karl and Alex suggest that other farmers start using no-till and cover crops as part of an experiment. “Use side by side comparisons in plots,” they say. “It takes extra management to add a variable such as cover crops. Farmers need to be committed to handle that variable.”
The Forsbachs have gone against the norm in an area prone to flooding by committing to continuous no-till and planting multi-species cover crops or wheat for grain. They have not only improved the soils but have saved in input costs with reduced fungicides and herbicides. With their efforts, the soil is drastically improving along with their profits.