Justin and Javen Fann
Warren and Cannon County Soil and Water Conservation Districts
Brothers Justin and Javen Fann farm 1,800 acres of corn, wheat and soybean in Warren and Cannon Counties. As third-generation farmers, they take after their father, who always told them to be stewards of the land.
Their dad started them on their soil health journey, planting on the contour and building terraces. In the 1980s, the family began planting crops with a no-till planter. Even when they tilled, their dad was very particular about when and where he did it.
The family knew no-till was the key to preserving the land, so they experimented with the practice until they were happy with the results. Subsequently, most of their crops have been no-tilled since the late 1980s. For the family, tillage is not an option.
The Fann brothers used to bale their wheat and double-crop soybeans into the wheat stubble, but they noticed that this left their soil hard and caused substantial runoff. In 2000, they decided to stop baling the straw and leave the soil in their no-till system. However, they didn’t see the improvement in water infiltration that they desired. They also tried a monoculture cover crop of Austrian winter peas and felt it was a “train wreck.”
Matt Feno, NRCS District Conservationist for Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, convinced the brothers to try a multi-species cover crop mixture in 2015. They seeded cereal rye, triticale, crimson clover, hairy vetch, canola, Daikon radishes and Austrian winter peas.
In May of 2015, they sampled the covers and estimated that there was 25,000 pounds of wet biomass. Although NRCS employees were wary about this high amount, the brothers were not concerned, and they precision planted their corn with excelled stands.
After just one year of trying the heavily diverse cover crop mixture, the brothers said they noticed a difference in yields, as well as soil temperature and texture. Their soils were softer and held more moisture. They also continue to see reduced runoff. These benefits are sure to increase in the future.
Updated May 2020.