Gibson County, Tennessee
Marty Hinson owns and operates a 4,300-acre grain and fiber row crop (corn, cotton, soybeans, grain sorghum, and wheat) farm with her husband Barry and son Sam Green near Trenton, Tennessee, in Gibson County. Hinson also works full-time as the farm services manager at Cannon Packaging in Humboldt, Tennessee. Like on the farm, Hinson’s work at Cannon involves nutrient management (soil testing and applying soil and foliar applied nutrients) and assisting farmers in West Tennessee to make similar changes.
Hinson has a long list of soil health objectives on her operation: (1) increase cover crops up-taking nutrients deep within the soil profile; (2) increase organic matter content in the soil; (3) loosen the soil for better root growth and easier establishment of crops; and (4) use nutrients more efficiently and effectively through legumes, decomposing covers, and other methods.
Marty worked with NRCS to obtain technical and financial assistance to initiate her cover crop (in 2013) and no-till system (now covers about 90 percent of the farm). She enrolled in both the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and applied for nine enhancements under the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), focusing on nutrient management, cover crops, and soil health. She annually “zone tests” her soil samples (and tissue samples) and applies phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) according to the results. She split-applies nitrogen (N) and applies foliar fertilizer, sugar, fulvic acid, and other nutrients, as well. Hinson set a pH goal of 6.3 and applies Calcium-lime (Ca), chicken litter, and Potassium-Magnesium (Mg) Sulfate to balance Ca, Mg, and K.
Currently, the Hinson Farm has 1,823 acres in multiple species cover crops ranging from 5-9 species per field, including cereal rye seeded at 30 lbs, wheat at 40 lbs, rape at 4 lbs, purple top turnips at 1 lb, buckwheat at 10 lbs, crimson clover at 6 lbs, Daikon radishes at 2 lbs, and Austrian winter peas at 7 lbs per acre. Most fields were broadcast using spinner truck using diammonium phosphate (DAP) and potassium as a carrier. Other late seeded fields were flown on by airplane.
After three years of covers with diverse crop rotations and continuous no-till, the farm operation has reduced its broad leaf residual weed control and dry fertilizer on soybeans. Marty says the savings amounts to $57 per acre. The soil is much looser, too, and every shovel full has at least five earthworms (even in January at 46 degrees Fahrenheit). Hinson doesn’t spray fungicides, except for 50 percent of her soybean acres, saving her about $15 per acre. She also reduced nitrogen applications in cotton, which then reduced the amount of salt applied to the soil. Organic matter levels range from 1.4 – 2.3 percent now, but Marty thinks they will increase in the future.
The positive results from using multi-species cover include: (1) a diversity of soil organisms that make the soil less susceptible to diseases, (2) diverse root types – from fibrous grass roots that add carbon to tap roots from legumes and brassicas that break up compacted layers, and (3) legumes fix N and host mycorrrhiza, a fungi that aids plants by reaching and up-taking moisture and phosphorus that may be tightly held by soil miccroaggregates.