Willis Farms Inc. is a multigenerational family owned and operated farming operation ideally situated in southern middle Tn. Through hard work, innovation, and a little luck the farm has grown over the last 70 years to encompass almost 4000 acres of productive cropland and pasture. We focus on taking care of the land first, using regenerative and sustainable methods on every acre under our care. Our regenerative agriculture journey started in the late 80’s with No-till. This was done to minimize erosion and multiple trips across each field. After finding success there we started to dabble in variable rate fertility. In 2012 we broke a few fields up into zones based on similar agronomic properties such as soil type, topography, electroconductivity and historical yield. We base our fertilizer applications on the targeted needs of these zones. This practice led to a 30% reduction in fertilizer application vs the traditional method, so we implemented it on every acre we farm. Next, around 2014 we started experimenting with cover crops. It started out with a single field planted in a single species and has since grown to every acre we can feasibly cover before it gets too cold or wet planted in a multi species mix. After making some adjustments to our timing and seeding rates, we now plant in a specific order so we can harvest a few hundred acres early enough to plant our cover crop. These fields are grazed off and on by Good Animal Practice certified cows and calves until we are ready to plant our cash crops the next spring. None of these things by themselves moves the needle but together, as a system, we are beginning to see real benefits. Our overall yields have increased while using less fertilizer. We can withstand drought conditions due to cooler soil temperatures. Periods of torrential rain don’t cut ditches or create standing water because our soil acts more like a sponge. Our cattle are fed a diverse nutritionally dense diet without us having to take hay or grain to them. Implementing these practices comes with its challenges. We have had to change when we plant, which has in turn changed when we harvest. We have built fences around crop fields so we can graze them. Our planters are set up to deal with new planting conditions. We’ve sown cover crop differently every year since we started. Through all this though, we feel we are on the right track. We are farming productively while enriching our soil and sinking carbon. But we’re still trying to figure out what’s next.
Willis Farms, Inc.
Corn, Soybeans, Winter Wheat, Malt Barley, Cattle
Continuous No-Till, Variable Rate Fertility, Multi-species Cover Crop, Grazing Cover Crop, Pollinator Habitat Strips
Continuous No-Till since the early 90's, Variable Rate Fertility since 2013, Cover Crops since 2014, Grazing since 2017, Pollinator Habitat strips since 2020