Claiborne County Soil Conservation District
On his 1,000-acre farm, James England grows corn and hay and raises cattle. His 40 fields vary in size between 15 and 40 acres. He also owns a few golf courses and has a greenhouse, where he produces organic tomatoes.
England says the key to improving soil health is “Healthy plants growing continuously and utilizing photosynthesis to increase plant production.” He utilizes many soil health practices to achieve this. Along with no-till, he plants a multi-species cover crop on his 30 acres of corn. His cover crop mixture normally consists of graze forage radish, hairy vetch, crimson clover, Hunter Leaf Turnip and Winfred Forage Brassica. He also practices high-intensity, short-duration grazing. He moves his herd to the next paddock after the grass has reached about four inches and allows for regrowth during a rest period of a minimum of 30-45 days.
England grazes 100 percent of his land. He plants sorghum-sudan grass for hay. England does one cut-off of the grass and then grazes the area for the rest of the season. During the winter, he lets his cattle graze the cover crops that grow on his corn fields.
He also produces his own compost, using manure from his feed lot and wood chips or sawdust. England applies his compost, which is valued at $90 per ton, to his golf courses, corn and hay acreage and, occasionally, his pastureland. England also makes his own ‘compost tea,’ a mixture of solid compost water, molasses and calcium or boron, which he applies to his fields annually.
England’s practices have provided many benefits for his farm. His total biomass is high, improving his soils aggregation and infiltration. His diversity in species has provided him a good balance of soil microbes, further improving his soil function. His soil organic matter is extremely high, and his soils have a large earthworm presence.
England has already done a remarkable job improving his soils. He continues to learn more about soil health and test out new practices on his farm, with the hopes of further improving his soil health and the quality of his forage.
Updated August 2019.