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The Coffee County Soil Conservation District recently named Jamie Weaver of Hillsboro the 2013 “Young Conservationist of the Year” for his sustainable soil and farming practices.
The awards ceremony took place March 29 at a banquet at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center with roughly 170 in attendance.
At only 33, Weaver is not only a farmer, but also a Coffee County Road Commissioner and vice president of the Coffee County Farm Bureau. He also holds, or has held, executive office in the Tennessee Pork Producers, Franklin County Livestock and Cattleman’s associations.
With his degree in animal science from the University of Tennessee and his father’s help, Weaver farms roughly 600 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans, along with 400 acres of pasture and hayland for his grass-fed cow and calf operation.
In addition, he “finishes” swine, which he defines as growing to market using sustainable practices.
“We have about 200 pigs and 130 cows,” Weaver said, “and we use rotational grazing and well watering to keep the cows out of the ponds.
“We use water tanks and ball-waterers for the livestock and we keep the ponds fenced, and it keeps the farm cleaner and it also keeps the soil from eroding into the ponds.”
Weaver said he takes his grass-fed calves to market at weaning age, but “tops” his pigs and then takes them to USDA-inspected facilities to prepare the meat for retail sale.
On top of all this, he also manages eight acres of grapes, sweet corn and other vegetables, which are sold at local farmer’s markets and wineries.
“I sell all my grapes to Beans Creek Winery and my other vegetables at local farmer’s markets,” he said, adding that it has taken several years of growing grapes to get the quality high enough for wholesale.
“I started growing grapes in 2008, but it takes about four to five years, but that late freeze in 2012 killed all I had,” Weaver said. “But last year was better and this year should be my best so far.”
All the while, Weaver said he uses 100 percent no-till farming and a wide variety of cover crops to fortify the soil by increasing organic matter and water absorption.
“We would love to do 100 percent cover crops, but we get really busy in the fall just getting everything harvested, and it’s hard to get the cover crops planted in a timely fashion,” he said.
“But we do as much as we can with winter peas, rye grass, wheat, radishes and turnips. We also rotate our row crops between corn and beans, and all this helps us reduce the inputs, like fertilizer and pesticides.”
In the process, Weaver provides data for the soil district to learn what types of cover crops are best for maintaining long-term soil health in Coffee County.
According to board member Cindy Anderson, the Soil Conservation District and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) work together to assist landowners in resource conservation, with a total of $1,155,402 spent in 2013 alone to ensure clean water, healthy soil, clean air and energy and new technology, which farmers like Weaver help to implement.
“Jamie is at the forefront of using multi-species cover crops to study the effect they have on his soil and crops,” Anderson said.
“He is always open to study and implement new technologies and provide the Soil Conservation District a place to learn and study new concepts to be adopted on a larger scale across the county and region.”
Weaver said his main goal in working with the District is to leave healthy, sustainable soil and farmland for future generations, for his own family as well as others.
“I think we’re doing a good job with soil retention, but I hope to do a little better with building the soil up and making it healthier over the long term,” Weaver said.
“I have a four-year-old son, and I can see his love for farming already, so I want to do my best to leave the ground in good shape for him, like my dad did for me, so I’m always looking for the most environmentally-friendly practices that provide the best long-term benefits.”