The Coffee County Soil Health Field Day showcases an evolving practice that defies some traditional farming methods. Farmers plant corn and soybeans directly into thick mats of cover crops, that grow as tall as 7 feet before being mechanically rolled to the ground.
The progressive adoption of this cover-crop biomass system has put Coffee County on the map as one of the leading examples in the country for the advancement of soil health.
“With this type of system comes a new learning curve, and we don’t have every answer yet,” says Adam Daugherty, district conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service in Coffee County. “The reason for this field day is to highlight the most recent advancements we’ve made.”
The field day, held annually in summer, is a one-day event of featured speakers and in-field demonstrations. The sponsoring Coffee County Soil Conservation District, Tennessee Department of Agriculture and various vendors will invite 160 registrants for its fourth annual event planned this summer. Topics will focus primarily on biomass-management techniques and go in-depth for farmers experienced with these types of cover-crop systems.
In general, cover crops are plants that farms grow between harvest in the fall and planting season in the spring. The biomass system takes cover crops to the next level and requires high levels of management. When successful, the practice holds soil nutrients, preserves moisture, reduces erosion, adds carbon and keeps the soil active.
“The long-term goal in this is that our soils have the ability to cycle nutrients on their own,” Daugherty says. “Once producers learn how their most valuable resource – the soil – is designed to function, they want to do the right thing and make their ground better. The cover-crop biomass system is very dynamic, and that’s what we’re trying to highlight.”