Mike GravesRipley, MS
Tippah County Soil and Water Conservation District
Mike Graves and his three sons Tyler, Allen and Michael manage M.H. Graves & Sons Farms in Ripley, Miss., a family farm that spans four generations and covers 5,500 acres of both family-owned and rented land. The Graves raise cotton, soybeans and corn and work with the Tippah County Soil and Water Conservation District.
The Graves’ farmland is located in the North Tippah Watershed, an area designated to contain impaired waters by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI). As part of this watershed, their goal is to keep as much of their soil from going downstream as possible. To this end, they’ve created a soil health system for their operation – incorporating multiple conservation practices which have not only increased the integrity of the land, but also increased their yields.
Forty years ago, the Graves began experimenting with no-till, and today, their operation is 100 percent no-till. As a result, they’ve been able to build soil structure and soil health – making it easier for plants to establish roots and minimize soil compaction.
As part of a six-year study, the Graves has voluntarily dedicated 1,200 acres towards monitoring the effectiveness of cover crops for soil health benefits. The cover crop mix includes cereal rye, radishes and wheat. Since participating in the study, they’ve experienced increased organic matter, less compaction, higher moisture-holding capacity in the soil, better nutrients in the soil structure, and a decrease in soil erosion and runoff.
Taking their operation from a monoculture into a system of crop rotation has also yielded fewer problems with insects and disease.
And with each of these soil health practices, there has been an increase in weed suppression, a decrease in soil erosion, and an increase in soil organic matter.
The Graves have installed several center pivot systems which have helped with water runoff and soil erosion. These systems encourage more organic matter and crop residue to decompose back into the soil.
One of the biggest challenges in the Graves’ region is the continuous issue of soil erosion, which is why they have implemented soil health conservation practices – no-tilling, cover crops, crop rotation and pivot systems. When water leaves the fields, the Graves control the runoff in field ditches and creeks by putting in pipe, rock shoots and rock structures. By using these practices, the Graves are striving to improve and protect the much-needed soil for better harvests while simultaneously helping revitalize the health of the North Tippah Watershed.
Posted May 2018