Jason BirdsongProspect, TN
Giles County Soil Conservation District
Jason Birdsong, a fourth-generation farmer, has been farming his entire life. He grows corn, wheat and soybeans on his 750-acre farm.
Through working with the University of Tennessee Extension Service, he has conducted many experiments on his farm regarding best management practices. Through one experiment, he found that his soybeans yielded 3.5 more bushels per acre following a five-way cover crop mix compared to using cereal rye alone.
Birdsong’s family has been experimenting with no-till practices since the 1970s. In 2010, he was finally able to make the switch to full-time no-till due to better herbicides and technology that allows him to still control weeds and get a good stand. He also decided to experiment with cover crops in the same year.
Through trial and error, he has perfected his cover crop mixture. He began by using wheat as his cover crop for the first two years. Then, in 2012, he changed to cereal rye and tillage radishes. It was then that he began to see the changes in his soil – better soil structure and the ability to achieve a stand with less down pressure on his planter. In 2013, he added wheat to the mixture, but took it out in 2014 due to pest populations. He began experimenting with a larger mixture in 2015, when he planted a mix of black oats, crimson clover, purple top turnips, cereal rye, sunn hemp and tillage radishes. In 2016, he utilized the same multi-species mix with a few changes – substituting kale for turnips and removing cereal rye from the mix.
Birdsong’s soil health efforts have provided numerous benefits. The crimson clover in his mixture has helped establish a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and legumes, where atmospheric nitrogen is fixed in the soil. The kale and turnips in his mixture have provided a tap-root for loosening the soil and reducing compaction. Water infiltration and drainage has improved. His soil organic matter has increased from 3.7 percent in 2014 to 5.4 percent in 2017. Being persistent, his cover crop and no-till practices will continue to enhance these benefits in the coming years.
Updated June 2019.