Harden County Soil Conservation District
Rick Essary farms with his son Kevin and son-in-law Jason Cherry at Essary and Cherry Farms. This 4,000-acre corn-soybean operation spans across four counties in Tennessee – McNairy, Chester, Henderson and Hardin.
Essary has farmed his entire life and has always believed in soil conservation. He began serving on the Hardin County Soil Conservation District (SCD) Board of Supervisors in 1983 and is now chairman of the district. He continues to work hard to improve his own soil health and that of those around him.
In the 1970s, most farmers in his area were burning their wheat residue. Unlike these other farmers, Essary wanted to utilize the residue and plant soybeans into it. In 1980, he began no-tilling his hilled acreage and expanded this practice to his naturally wet bottom land in the 1990s. Since he started, he has not looked back.
Essary and his family work with the local farmers cooperative to have their soils tested in two-acre grids, allowing them to use a variable rate application for lime, phosphorous and potassium. They also use a split application for nitrogen, and their tests allow them to know the exact applications needed for secondary and micro-nutrients.
The family began planting cover crops on their operation after they saw farmers in Kentucky growing radishes in 2008. After trying tillage radishes on their farm and seeing success, they decided to expand their acreage. With time, they expanded to a multi-species mix of Austrian Winter Peas, radishes, crimson clover, annual rye grass, sunflowers, Ethiopian cabbage and spring oats.
Essary practices the ‘planting green’ technique, planting corn and soybean directly into their multi-species cover crop mixture. This allows him to maximize the growth of their covers, receiving as many benefits from them as possible. The covers also help take up excess moisture that might be present in the soil during wet springs.
Essary and his family have seen many benefits from their practices. Yields have been increasing by approximately two or three percent per year. The presence of weeds, such as Mare’s tail and pigweed, has decreased. His soil, he says, is softer and easier to plant into. He sees far less runoff, especially during torrential rains, and his ditches run cleaner water. His erosion problems have been more or less eliminated.
“Everyone should try a small amount and learn from it,” Essary says about growing covers. Essary and Cherry Farms is changing the landscape in Milledgeville field by field, setting an example for those around them.
Updated August 2019.