Coffee County Soil Conservation District
Robert Henley, an agronomist at Security Seed and Chemical, owns and manages a 70-acre farm in Hillsboro, Tennessee. He is a well-known producer in his county, actively working to help others reach their corn and soybean yield potential by hosting soil health meetings, field days and more.
Since 2015, Henley has been consistently using a multi-species cover crop mixture. He started with a mixture of cereal rye, winter oats, triticale, crimson clover, hairy vetch, Austrian winter pea and Daikon radish. Henley also practices no-till, with some of his fields not being tilled in more than 60 years.
The diversity of his multi-species cover crop mixture provides a large amount of carbon for his soils which in turn has improved aggregate stability and his infiltration rate. After his 2015 year, his infiltration rate was measured to be 20-24 inches per hour. This had improved significantly from the four inches per hour that was measured when he used only Austrian winter peas as a cover in 2014.
Henley works actively with NRCS to showcase the benefits of soil health. He has participated in a ‘soil your undies’ challenge, where NRCS staff buried cotton underwear in a field with cover crops and a field without. In just 30 days, Henley’s high-yielding field with cover crops had ingested all but the nylon bands. Although the non-cover crop field had not been tilled, it didn’t have the biology necessary to decompose the underwear as quickly.
The constant carbon production in his soils has been improving his soil health over time. His soil organic matter is 2.5-3 percent, and his cation exchange capacity is high. Henley is also seeing fewer pigweeds and mares tail due to his cover crop program.
Henley is not afraid to get out of the box and break tradition in order to change his soils and his bottom line. He will continue to push his operation to be its best, while also encouraging other farmers to do the same.
Updated May 2020.