Alfred FarrisOrlinda, TN
Robertson County Soil Conservation District
Alfred Farris and his wife, Carney, began farming in the 1960s. They bought their current farm in Orlinda, Tennessee in 1986. Currently, they raise cattle, corn, soybean and wheat, as well as some cover crop for seed.
At the beginning, they raised cattle and corn conventionally. However, that quickly changed. Farris, a devout Christian, asked himself, “if the land belongs to God, and we are His stewards, why are we using toxic chemicals on His land?” He also visited the Rodale Institute and heard about the organic movement from Dr. William Albrecht at the University of Missouri.
Farris decided he wanted to move to an organic system, cutting out chemicals and building his soil using compost and cover crops. He knew that the foundation of organic farming had to be cover crops, rotation of crops and compost. During their transition, Farris would use some herbicides in narrow bands in crop rows. But, eventually, he quit applying those chemicals and became certified organic in 1997.
“To farm organically, one has to choose some tillage (steel) or not farm organically and use herbicides,” Farris said. He was determined to finish his organic tradition and, therefore, decided to include some tillage in his operation.
Farris practices rotational grazing, removing cattle when the grass is approximately four inches tall, with a six-year conservation crop rotation system. In this system, he plants three years of grass, followed by corn, soybean and wheat before returning to grass. In his grass years, he plants chicory, endophyte-free fescue, orchard grass and red and white clover.
Farris bought a roller crimper approximately 10 years ago and no-tills his crops in behind the rolled covers. His cover crop mixtures vary depending on what is following it. For corn, he plants oats, purple bounty vetch and crimson clover. For soybeans, he uses cereal rye, wheat and purple bounty.
The last main soil health practice on their operation is compost, which is acquired from Ohio and made with sawdust and chicken manure. They’ve been applying it on their corn ground at a rate of approximately 1,000 tons a year for 20 years.
The soils on the operation are very productive. They have a soil organic matter content of 2-2.5 percent and good infiltration and are also highly aggregated. Farris has found that their practices have created better functioning soils and better profits.
Updated May 2020.