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They Turned A Sow’s Ear Into A Silk Purse

With no-till, east Tennessee dairy producers grow above-average forages on below average land.

Hop aboard the “ag-train” and join us for an excursion to Tennessee’s scenic Monroe County. Located 50 miles southeast of Knoxville, the 660-square-mile tract lies in the Great Valley of eastern Tennessee along the western slopes of the Unaka Mountains.

With 422,000 total acres, it’s the fifth largest county in the Volunteer State. About 6,000 dairy cows make their home on 40 dairy farms and Dairy Herd Improvement Association average milk production is a respectable 18,588 pounds per cow per year.

High quality forages abound, and about 1,200 cows feast on lush, green grazing pastures most every day of the year.

“Sounds like paradise. They must have ideal soil and growing conditions here,” you say.

Not Hardly

Check out the Class 3 rolling, eroded upland soils. Notice the 20-degree slope in many fields. Complicate that with long, hot, humid summers that often feature seemingly endless drought.

So what’s the key that enables Monroe Co. dairy producers to create an enviable feed supply? Answer: No-till forages.

“No-till is the best thing to happen to agriculture in my lifetime,” says Monroe Co. extension agent Bob Sliger. “Thanks to no-till, we produce large volumes of high quality forages on upland soils that have experienced moderate to severe erosion. Using cover crops for winter cover, we maintain residue on the land and grow outstanding feed.”

About 3,000 acres of corn silage are currently grown in Monroe Co. Sliger estimates 60 to 80 percent, up to 2,400 acres, are no-tilled. Some 1,500 to 1,800 acres…

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