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What I've Learned From No-Tilling: No-Till, Cover Crops and Data Help Coax Yields from Thin Soils

Cecil and Steele Byrum pull out all the stops to produce quality crops on the thin, sandy coastal soils of southeast Virginia.


Pictured Above: RESIDUE BUILDER. Thin soils plus low residue crops, such as cotton, make building organic matter very difficult for the Byrums. No-tilling crops with more significant roots and biomass left after harvest such as wheat, cereal rye cover crops and most recently, corn, help protect their soils and will hopefully eventually build organic matter

Check The Specs...

NAME: Cecil and Steele Byrum

LOCATION: Windsor, Va. FARM: Byrum Family Farms Inc.

YEARS NO-TILLING: 37

ACRES: 2,500

CROPS: Winter wheat, cotton, corn and soybeans

In an area that gets at least 52 inches of precipitation each year, you wouldn’t think lack of moisture would be a driving factor in any farming decisions. 

While moisture seems plentiful on paper, in the real world a combination of soil types and the timing of precipitation make moisture a factor we absolutely consider in our management strategies. It’s one of the reasons we tried no-till in 1980 and rely heavily on the practice still today. 

Our farm is located on the coastal plains of southeast Virginia just 50 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We are blessed to farm here. It’s a beautiful area that doesn’t have a lot of big agriculture. Encroachment from surrounding communities has been a challenge, though the economy crash in 2008 gave us a little stay and farmland isn’t disappearing as quickly. 

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Steele Byrum (right)

Farmland in this area is generally flat, though field sizes are small and irregularly shaped. As you would expect…

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Martha Mintz

Contributing Editor

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