Ricky EssaryMilledgeville, TN

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IMG_1839newRicky Essary

Milledgeville, Tennessee

Essary and Cherry Farms

Hardin County Soil Conservation District (Chair)

Ricky farms with his son Kevin and his son-in-law Jason Cherry in a partnership they call Essary and Cherry Farms. Their 4,000 acres of rotated corn and soybeans are unique in that they extend into four counties – McNairy, Chester, Henderson, and Hardin Counties – all within four miles of Ricky’s home.

Ricky is passionate about conservation and believes in improving soil health. He has served on the Hardin County Soil Conservation Board of Supervisors since 1983 and his operation serves as a demonstration farm for conservation practices like grass waterways, cover crops, and no-till.

In the 1980s, farmers were growing wheat in his area and having trouble with all of the residue from the stubble, Ricky says. Most farmers in the 1970s were burning the wheat residue, but Ricky found a way to utilize the residue and plant soybeans into it by using no-till. Ricky didn’t no-till continuously since the 80s due to excessive weed pressure on bottom lands, which make up about 60 percent of this operation, but starting in the 1990s when GMO corn and soybean seed were introduced, he’s been able to use 100 percent no-till.

The Essary/Cherry team works with the local Farmers Cooperative (COOP) to have their soils tested in 2-acre grids. They use variable rate application for lime and application of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Ricky said that yields have been increasing by approximately 2-3 percent per year over the last eight years. They use split application of nitrogen (N), applying 80 pounds per acre of N at planting using 28-0-0-5. They add the split applied N when corn reaches 16″ inches. They have not reduced N as of yet, and apply 220 pounds per acre of total N for corn. They also tissue sample on two select fields.

The men also have 125 acres of pivot irrigation. They apply 250-260 pounds of N on their irrigated corn. They also use exact application for secondary and micro nutrients such as for magnesium, boron, manganese, zinc, and sulfur. Ricky says the Farmers’ COOP was impressed by the fields they’ve grown multi-species cover crops on. According to him, COOP says they have minimal mare’s tail and pig weed pressure, compared to other neighboring farms.

Their row spacing for corn is 30″-inch rows, and 15″-inch rows for soybeans. They plant their crops green into cover, helping to maintain more moisture in the soil and cooler soil temperatures. According to Ricky, most of West Tennessee’s fields in multi-species cover haven’t suffered from drought the last three years.

The team’s introduction to covers was in 2008 – the year they first tried using tillage radishes at 8 pounds per acre on 20 acres. They noticed planting in radishes were easier to get a stand. They expanded to 100 acres the following year with annual rye grass and tillage radishes. They planted 15-20 pounds of rye grass per acre and 6 pounds of radishes per acre. In 2010 and 2011, they added 1 pound of brassica mix, rye grass, radishes, and wheat; and in 2012, they began using combinations of: forage collards, radishes, Ethiopian cabbage, kale, sunflowers, buck wheat, millet, cereal rye, and oats. Today, Essary and Cherry Farms seeds between five and seven species with an airplane (they haven’t been very impressed with aerial seeding) or a Great Plains no-till drill.

In the last eight years, Ricky has seen a three percent jump in yields per year, especially on sloping lands that had less top soil. Erosion on his land has been more or less eliminated, and he has noticed considerably less runoff, especially during torrential rains. Ricky insists that everyone should try planting a small amount of cover, and hill ground should always have cover.

Ricky is focused on finding solutions to planting cover in lands that flood and will be experimenting with different combinations of cover species like Berseem clover. He’s also switching from Round Up to Gramoxone to get a quicker kill on the cover.

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