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The rolling red hills of northern Alabama share quite a history with American agriculture.
Farmers in the mid-19th century found cotton was a profitable crop, but its heavy nutrient requirements over time depleted the soil and exposed it to the ravages of weather. Years of intensive cropping and tillage further reduced the yield-bearing potential of the soil, especially on eroded hilltops.
At the third-generation Blythe Cotton Co. near Courtland, Ala., Jamie Blythe — who farms in partnership with her sister, Ellen Fennel Blythe, and parents, Betty and Jimmy Blythe — is slowly turning back the clock on soil fertility with effective rotations and no-till farming practices.
“Dad started no-tilling in 1993 and we’ve been almost 100% no-till ever since,” says Jamie, whose operation grows 3,500 acres of corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat. “My sister and parents live out of state, and we find that no-till actually simplifies our operation.”
‘Lean and mean’ best describes their farming operation. Jamie and her husband, K.P. Arnold, along with two additional employees, are the primary equipment operators. Crop harvest and planting often overlap, and she’s found that timing is everything when it comes to successfully farming in this hilly, red clay region of northern Alabama.
“In the past six years, we’ve seen impressive increases in yields,” says Jamie. “We used to consider 120-bushel corn a good yield, but now we’re seeing corn yields approaching 200 bushels.”
The Blythes follow a rotation designed to build up their soils, which they believe is…