What is in this article?:
- In the middle of one of the worst ongoing droughts in Texas history, how can Tommy Henderson remain so optimistic about his dryland winter wheat crop? Because he’s got it covered.
Tommy Henderson's wheat crop is thriving thanks to three years of no-till and the cover crops he planted in them this past summer.
Root of his plan
As the NRCS saying goes, “Healthy soil is productive soil.” Henderson’s three years of no-till management, which leaves the previous crop’s plant residue in the field, has already improved the soil structure on even his hardest clay soils, making it easy for plant roots to penetrate deep and find new moisture and nutrient layers to keep them alive.
Henderson obtained a degree in agronomy from Texas A&M in 1975. He became a full time farmer near his home town of Byers, Texas, that same year and has been a continuous student of the land ever since.
After researching and attending several workshops on ways to improve soil health, Henderson took another leap of faith and made an additional change in his farm management program this year: he planted summer cover crops.
“I planted guar beans and sesame in my wheat fields this summer,” he says. “I wanted to plant something that would shade my soil and also be a cash crop I could hopefully harvest.”
With Henderson’s farm straddling HWY 79, a major thoroughfare from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Waurika, Oklahoma, the unusual crops attracted quite a bit of attention and generated a lot of talk in the local coffee shops.
“I am always willing try something I believe in,” Henderson says. “But it’s usually different than what everyone else is doing, so that’s why I’m so glad to have my farming buddy Dewayne Davis alongside of me doing the no-till and cover crops on his place. It’s always easier, mentally, for two people to do something like this.”
Home Grown Nutrients
Henderson says he chose these particular crops for their ability to leave nitrogen in the soil after they are harvested.
Over time, the plant residue in the field turns into nutrient-rich organic matter in the soil and the plants’ roots loosen the soil, allowing for deeper soil moisture and improved biological activity in the soil. Carbon and nitrogen are two of the dominant nutrients farmers monitor in their fields. Crops are reliant on a proper balance of these nutrients to produce the best yields.
NRCS recommends an ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio of 24:1. Wheat stubble left in the field produces a carbon-to-nitrogen ration of 80:1. Thus, nitrogen has to be added to bring the ratio back in balance. Cover crops in combination with no-till farming seldom require additional nitrogen to reach the ideal C: N ratio.
“In the past I have had to buy nitrogen to add to the soil,” Henderson says. “But now, with legume crops like the guar beans, sesame seeds, cow peas and some others that have an 8:1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, I can essentially grow my own nitrogen.
“That is a big savings in itself,” he says.