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At JRH Grain Farms, Russell Hedrick’s operation in the foothills of Hickory, N.C., soil testing is a critical component of day-to-day operations. It’s an approach that’s helped the world dryland corn yield record holder dramatically reduce his fertilizer rates.
“Last year, we saved $34,000 on phosphorus (P), a little over $8,000 on potassium (K) and $92,000 on nitrogen (N) using the Haney test,” Hedrick says. “The Haney test, cover crops and cutting out part of our chemical program because of our weed suppression with cover crops saved us $164,000 last year.”
Fertilizer still matters, even with healthy soils, Hedrick says. His operation still makes use of conventional inputs — it just uses less of them.
“I don’t think we will ever get to the point where our farm is 100% fertilizer-free,” Hedrick says. “We can apply low amounts of fertilizer and see a massive return on investment, but we also utilize the Haney test to see what we actually need.”
The story of JRH Grain Farms has an unconventional beginning. Hedrick was a career fireman for over a decade before he made the switch to farming in 2012. He started with 30 acres in Catawba County.
Soon, Hedrick was introduced to the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and shortly afterward met soil conservationist and No-Till Innovator Ray Archuleta. Hedrick asked Archuleta for advice on weed suppression and controlling erosion on his farm, which is set in red clay soil in the foothills.
“Somehow, they talked us into planting…