There is a lot more information about soil health available today than there was a decade ago, but it’s still up to each individual farmer to figure out what works best for their operation. Delaware farmer Jay Baxter grows soybeans, corn, sweet corn, and lima beans on Baxter Farms. Jay is the fourth generation to do so along with his sister who farms with him, as well as some other family stakeholders that include his 93 year old grandmother who is still engaged with the farm. In addition to the crops, they have eight chicken houses. At any one time they have about 225,000 broilers on the farm. That’s enough to keep anyone busy, but Jay and his wife have also started a couple side businesses: a greenhouse company growing contract potted flowers for a wholesale distributor, and a custom cover crop application business. He shares about the cover crops, equipment, biosolids, and poultry manure that are part of his operation.
“We’re starting to understand what different cover crops do to our soils, and we’re starting to understand what different mixes and how different cover crop species mix together, how they interact with one another, and what they can do to benefit us on our farm and our particular soils. And what they can kind of bring to the table and help us to utilize some of our, well, our number one resource, which is our soil.”
One interesting thing about Jay that is unique is that he has included hairy vetch in his cover crop mix for about 20 years. He has heard all of the concerns others have about hairy vetch, and says for him every year is different, but they’ve learned to manage the cover crop in a way that has been very beneficial to their operation. His unique techniques have paid off in the past specifically with his lima bean practices.
“Because they were sitting on top of a mulch, as opposed to sitting on top of bare soil, they had no blemish on them, and therefore were A grade beans, and that’s what the processor really wanted. So, we immediately became no till and cover crop farming lima bean growers.”