Mike and Susan ClarkMascot, TN

Mike and Susan Clark

Knox County Soil Conservation District

Mascot, Tennessee

Mike and Susan Clark own and operate Green Acres Farm in Mascot, Tenn. The farm, located east of Knoxville, is approximately 210 acres and produces forage for over 70,000 pounds of beef at any given time. Susan’s family has owned the land since 1803, and the Clarks took over the operation in 2006.

On their farm, the Clarks manage 39 bred cows, 17 yearlings and 35 calves. Most of these are crosses between Piedmontese, Hereford, Black Angus, South-Poll and Red Angus. For forages, they produce primarily Kentucky 31 tall fescue.

The couple works closely with the Knox County Soil Conservation District. In 2006, they worked with the district and NRCS to design an alternative watering system and permanent cross fencing on their operation.

Following their attendance at grazing seminars in 2013, the Clarks decided to practice strip grazing by limiting the herd to only a portion of a paddock per day. In doing this, they set up over 80 temporary paddocks instead of their previous nine, permanent 10-acre paddocks. In the same year, they decided to start changing their seeding habits as well, providing a more balanced, high-density forage. Their mixture now includes cereal rye and clover annuals, which allow them to increase forage production when the perennials in their mixture are recovering.

By changing to these new practices, the Clarks are spending much less time cutting hay and feed their cattle as little as one-third the hay of previous years. The new plant diversity has also diversified their soil life.

Other benefits have been seen as well. Their soil organic matter has increased from 2.4-4.5 percent in 2006 to 6.1-7.4 percent in 2014. The Clarks no longer need to use commercial nitrogen fertilizers and are astounded by their soil’s high water holding capacity. Their soil structure has improved, becoming crumblier and more granular. Their weed pressure has also been reduced.

The Clarks now manage their high-density, short-duration, grazing farm by following the four steps to build soil health. These steps are to (1) reduce disturbances by not overgrazing; (2) leave the soil uncovered by resting pastures and letting the residue be recycled by soil life; (3) rest forages to promote root growth most of the year; and (4) promote diversity by seeding different species.

The couple acknowledges that there were some barriers to adopting their conservation practices. For example, they needed the help of their district and NRCS to help finance their switch, as there was a hefty cost to change their water infrastructure and fencing. However, despite the challenges, the Clarks confirm the switch was well worth it.

Updated July 2019.

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