Rusty and Jeff HarrisHenderson, TN

Rusty and Jeff Harris

Chester County Soil Conservation District

Henderson, Tennessee

Rusty and Jeff Harris are not just twins, they’re also farming partners. As fifth-generation farmers, farming runs in the family: The brothers grew up farming with their dad, and their farm headquarters are located at Wayne Harris Road, named after their grandfather.

Rusty began farming approximately 15 years ago, becoming a full-time farmer when his father passed away. The land he has acquired is mostly bottom land fields with slopes no greater than four percent. His brother Jeff became a full-time farmer after him, approximately nine years ago. He, however, acquired steeper grounds that mostly came out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Together, they farm approximately 1,700 acres that spread over Chester, McNairy and Madison counties.

Their operation consists of approximately 750 acres of soybeans, 750 acres of cotton and 200 acres of corn. Most of their fields have been no-tilled for about 20 years, as the family started no-tilling in 2000. They also utilize a multi-species cover crop mix of cereal rye, crimson clover, wheat, Ethiopian cabbage and tillage radishes, planted by broadcast seeding with a spinner truck.

The Harris brothers practice the planting green technique. For corn, they terminate the covers within a week after planting. For soybeans, the turn-around time is much faster, with termination occurring the same day or the day after. Their cotton is not planted green, as the covers are killed in late March to early April, and the cotton gets planted six weeks later. Thanks to their planting green techniques, their covers pull more water out of their fields during wet springs.

Through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the brothers began practicing variable rate nutrient management. This has allowed them to reduce their total nitrogen application in cotton from 100 units per acre to 80 units per acre.

Other benefits from their soil health practices include improved soil structure and increasing organic matter. They’ve found that their soil temperature is cooler in the summer, causing less plant stress from hot and dry conditions. Following intense rains, they no longer see ponding and, instead, see their fields dry out faster, allowing them to enter them quicker.

The brothers say they learned by experience and through talking to other farmers. They continue to stay in communication with NRCS and learn and improve upon their practices.

“We need to do the best we can with the acres we have,” said Rusty.

Updated May 2020.

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