Madison, Crockett, and Gibson Counties, Tennessee
Matt Griggs owns and operates a gently rolling hillside farm in West Tennessee. His corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, and cereal operation consists of 1,600 continuous no-till acres, both owned and rented.
In the 1990s, the fields averaged around 1 to 1.25 percent soil organic matter (SOM) content, and about 70 acres were significantly damaged by erosion. In 2000, he and his father began no-tilling , and a year later, they sprigged hybrid bermuda grass for hay on those highly eroded soils. They haven’t grown hay since 2013, but those 13 years in bermuda grass transformed his soils and brought the average SOM to 2.7 percent. After terminating the bermuda grass and no-tilling wheat in its place in 2013, the field yielded an average of 90 bushels per acre. Matt followed up with 45 bushels of double cropped soybeans. The dynamic changes in those soils have Matt striving to emulate those results with his crop rotations, cover crops, and no-till on other fields.
As Matt advanced in his skills as a farmer, especially in his desire to improve the overall farm’s soil health, he continued to increase the amount of acreage planted in cover. In fall 2014, he started planting cover on a third of his acreage. Matt planted over 420 acres in cover after planting corn and over 130 acres after soybeans and cotton. His soil tests for 2014 indicated his soil organic matter levels had increased to 2.5 – 3 percent. Matt’s short-term goal for soil organic matter is 3.5 percent and his long-term goal is 4 percent. Currently, his farm’s pH averages 6.5.
Matt has been thrilled with the improvements he’s seen in soil infiltration. “Locally we receive abundant rainfall, but sometimes the timing is not ideal. I want the soil health on my farm to be my irrigation,” he said. “If we receive one inch of rainfall, I want my fields to infiltrate more than 0.2 inches of it.”
Matt has grid sampled his fields in 2.5-acre blocks for the last six years and used the results to apply nutrients and lime (now only used every five to eight years). He also uses variable rate seeding and nitrogen application on corn. In the last couple of years, he has reduced nitrogen application on cotton from 75 to 80 pounds per acre to 50 pounds per acre without any yield loss. He credits continuous no-till and cover crops for the changes in his soils’ buffering capacity.