Ray and Jaime Weaver
Coffee County, Tennessee
Ray Weaver of Coffee County, Tennessee, has been farming since 1971. Ray has served as the president of Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD) for the last five years and is currently the chairman of the district’s board of supervisors.
The Weaver Farm produces grapes (on eight acres), row crops (on 600 acres), sweet corn (on 20 acres) and pumpkin (on less than an acre) along with 150 head of cattle and 200 finishing pigs. Ray and his son Jaime rotate their sweet corn with pumpkins and their soybeans with corn, and use a mixture of cover crops and no-till on all their fields.
Ray bought a no-till planter in 1975 and has been experimenting with minimum tillage since the mid-70s. For the last 20 years – with the exception of one field in 2005 – the Weavers haven’t tilled their land. The family began using multiple species of cover crops in 2014, including a mixture of oats, cereal rye, triticale, hairy vetch, crimson clover, canola, radish, turnips, and Austrian winter peas. Each year the mixture’s components change, but around seven to nine species of cover are seeded, costing the family around $40 per acre. Jaime says he consistently uses cereal rye, crimson clover, and vetch, and plants the cover using a 12-foot-wide drill. Ray says they won’t be using canola as a cover in the future because it was so difficult to control.
In August, they plan to aerial seed cover into standing corn. Right now, Ray and Jamie plant corn from the second week of April to May 1, depending on the weather, right into living cover and terminate the cover one to two days afterward.
Before using covers, the Weavers said their no-till soils were harder, had less structure, and were less permeable. Now with cover, the team has been able to reduce nutrient inputs – between 25 and 50 pounds less nitrogen per acre – without reducing yields. For instance, the Weaver’s farm yielded 185 to 190 bushels per acre of corn with only 158 units of nitrogen.
To illustrate the soil health improvements made by using cover, the Weavers point to the farm’s soil health numbers, which ranged from 6 to 13 in 2014 and jumped to 13 to 28 in 2016. The Weaver’s active carbon measures are greater, too; soil infiltration rates have increased from 2″ to 6″ per hour, and their fungi to bacteria ratio is now much greater as a result of using covers. Most of Jamie and Ray’s fields were planted in covers by early to mid-September. Planting cover is such a high priority for the Weavers that they’re willing to plant later so that covers are on every field.
Ray says that one barrier to the adoption of cover crops and no-till in his area is “local farmers not wanting to change their farming style.” Many have embraced the change, he continued, after attending conservation district and other local meetings. Those who haven’t have had much of their top soils washed or blown away, he said.